Bubble Fusion Investigation Raises Questions

Last week in Deutschlandfunk, I reported about Bubble Fusion researcher Rusi Taleyarkhan who has recently been accused of research misconduct. Below, I’m providing an English translation of the report. The report was followed by an interview with Günter Lohnert, the editor of a journal at the center of the debate. Finally, I’m reproducing an interview I did with Rusi Taleyarkhan, hours after he had filed an appeal. So here comes the translation of the report:

Nuclear fusion on a table-top scale – is that possible? The group of Rusi Taleyarkhan says so and has, since 2002, published three papers that claim to prove it. But now an investigation committee of Purdue University accuses its employee of “research misconduct” in two of twelve charges. At the center is an experiment by Purdue physicists Yiban Xu and Adam Butt, who published a confirmation of so-called bubble fusion in 2005. The committee makes the following accusations. First:

Dr. Taleyarkhan with falsifying intent caused Mr. Adam Butt’ name to be added to the author bylines of the papers even though Mr. Butt was not a significant contributor to the experiments, the data analyses, or the writing of the manuscripts.

And second:

Dr. Taleyarkhan with falsifying intent stated in the opening paragraph of his [paper] … that “these observations have now been independently confirmed.”

These accusations are not new. In 2006, an internal investigation had cleared Taleyarkhan of practically the same charges. The nuclear engineer sees himself exposed to character assassination and does not plan to let the case rest. Two days ago he filed an appeal.

In 2006 we went through a year-long review and investigation into the same allegations which the 2008 Investigation Committee made a judgment of misconduct. Everything was settled. But soon thereafter our detractors swept in to challenge Purdue’s verdict claiming it did not investigate allegations from the worldwide community outside of Purdue University. Very significant political pressure was applied and the chairman of the Science and Technology subcommittee publicly scorned Purdue’s president Martin Jischke and demanded that a more extensive investigation be undertaken that includes all questions or allegations from around the world, not just from around Purdue University. They came up in 34 individual categories of allegations. Those were looked at by an independent group of individuals, who then passed judgement on 22 of them and dismissed all those related to fabrication and fraud. Twelve associated with some other academic issues were then moved forward. But none of those twelve allegations related to a co-authorship of a student or the claim of “independent confirmation” of the study that was published in 2005 in Nuclear Engineering and Design. After having passed judgement on those twelve and found no misconduct, two new allegations all of a sudden were added to the hopper. That goes against the legal charter of this particular committee. That’s what we feel is a fundamental flaw in this particular investigation report.

Documents obtained by Deutschlandfunk support this version. But are the accusations justified? The conclusiveness of some of the 100 footnotes of the investigation report ebbs, in important cases, upon scrutiny. Concerning the independence of Xu’s experiments, the report disregards his testimony that Taleyarkhan “did not participate in any experimentation.” On no account is “falsifying intent” even remotely established. Crucial arguments are judgment calls, which is why the allegations had been rejected in 2006.

It seems like semantics and I hate it that that becomes such a big deal. I hope that people will still look at his actual science,

says Ted Forringer, a physics professor at LeTourneau University in Texas, who had visited Taleyarkhan’s lab in May 2006 and conducted independent measurements. Back in Texas, he calculated that the evidence for nuclear reactions was statistically significant.

I think that, without the politics surrounding this issue, I would have been able to get some funding and some support to continue the research. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case now.

Also, Taleyarkhan’s group has lost research contracts one after another since 2006. Who could have an interest in this? Most accusations, documents show, are from a group immediately competing for money and fame. Within Purdue, most accusations are from Taleyarkhan’s former boss. He had to step back in October 2006 in connection with unlawful action against Taleyarkhan. Multiple affiliates of the School of Nuclear Engineering have accused him in affidavits of lies and manipulation. The fact that such things did not find their way into the investigation committee’s report raises serious questions.

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