Purdue Re-examines Misconduct Again – Updated

Update: Nature reports that Purdue has sent findings from this latest investigation into misconduct to the inspector-general of the Office of Naval Research. Taleyarkhan plans to contact the Office to challenge the report (which is confidential) and has already filed a defamation lawsuit against scientists who questioned his claims of bubble fusion.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Nature News reports that while Congress weighed in on Purdue’s less than transparent inquiry into Rusi Taleyarkhan’s bubble fusion research, the University set up a third panel to look at allegations of research misconduct. Science chimes in to indicate the University received additional allegations regarding sonofusion (after the initial 2 inquiries were done), which led to the new inquiry.

On May 10th, Brad Miller, Chair of the investigations and oversight subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology, wrote to Purdue president Martin Jishke, “I sincerely hope that the next inquiry will be conducted in a manner worthy of your great institution.”

However, Purdue’s third panel consists of unnamed panellists from the previous inquiries, though Purdue has pledged to add one or more outside scientists.

C. K. Gunsalus, a lawyer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who specializes in research misconduct, recommends instead that Purdue “… completely reconstitute the process. Different panellists, including at least one external to the institution, are required to restore faith in their findings. It’s the only way to close the matter.”

According to the subcommittee memo (& Nature news), the first panel reviewed a limited number of documents, interviewed only two professors inside Purdue, and concluded its work by recommending further interviews and examination of lab notebooks. The panel did not seem to follow the recommendations of the first, but instead solicited and examined a narrower set of allegations.

“The memo reports that the second panel concluded that Taleyarkhan showed “what might be characterized most favorably as severe lack of judgment” when he participated in the preparation of a manuscript by a postdoc and a graduate student that claimed positive results for bubble fusion and did not name him as an author.

Taleyarkhan then cited this work as “independent” confirmation of his own earlier research claims. The claim would not be accepted by the wider scientific community, the inquiry found. The memo says that the inquiry found Taleyarkhan had “abused his privilege as senior scientist” and placed the junior scientists in “precarious positions”. But the inquiry concluded that no full-scale investigation into the possibility of misconduct or the underlying research was warranted and the university then cleared Taleyarkhan of wrong-doing in a press release.”

Hmm. Not the sort of conduct I would find becoming of a scientist. Perhaps we’ll see what’s behind curtain number 3 in a few months.

Update (Sept 2007): Nature reports the following news on this case:

“A Purdue University panel inquiring into allegations of research misconduct against nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan has concluded that “several matters merit further investigation”.

The panel was set up after contact between Purdue, based in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the Office of Naval Research, which in 2005 allocated $250,000 to research by Taleyarkhan. This was part of a project aimed at replicating his controversial claims to be able to generate fusion energy by collapsing bubbles in deuterated fluids.

This is the third inquiry run by Purdue, which was criticized earlier this year by both scientists and lawmakers for its handling of concerns raised by scientists about bubble-fusion claims at the university. Purdue has not said publicly what exactly in Taleyarkhan’s work it might investigate further.”

1 Comment »

  1. […] May, Nature reported that another internal investigation had been launched that in September led to the […]

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