Interview with Rusi Taleyarkhan

Having been accused of research misconduct by an investigation committee of Purdue University on July 18, 2008, Rusi Taleyarkhan filed an appeal on July 28. I did this interview two hours afterwards. Passages were used in a report in Deutschlandfunk.

Dr. Taleyarkhan, today you delivered your appeal package to the Purdue University provost’s office. How will Purdue proceed now?

Purdue University is now chartered to put together a committee of three individuals who are supposed to be my peers and then, over the next three weeks, they will look over the materials that have been provided in addition to what they have already received from materials on the official record and then they will pass their judgment. The judgment will be delivered to the Provost who will then communicate with me and then to the President. Thereafter, if the judgment is positive, i.e., to dismiss findings of misconduct, then of course nothing happens in terms of disciplinary action, and as a consequence Purdue will look into what needs to be done to repair all the damage that has taken place to my reputation. If the judgment stands on misconduct then the administration decides what kind of action they want to take in terms of disciplinary action that is commensurate with the areas where misconduct has been concluded.

Why has there been a second investigation after there had already been one in 2006?

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 and Purdue University issued a glowing press release in which they declared me to have been exonerated, and wished me well in the pursuit of bubble nuclear fusion. 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 caused the US Congress to become involved. In fact, the chairman of the Science and Technology subcommittee publicly scorned, citing several of the same words used in the media by our detractors such as Tsoukalas, Suslick, Putterman, Naranjo and even the Nature magazine writer Reich, 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. That’s what started the second investigation.

What is your main line of argumentation in the appeal?

The main arguments are, in all fairness, they opened the door to allegations from anybody in the world. They got about fifty. Some of them were duplicates. They came up with 34 individual categories of allegations. Most of them were in fabrication, fraud, plagiarism, and the like. 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 and against everything that the Office of Naval Research has dictated as well as the State of Indiana laws in the United States. So along those lines, in producing allegations of their own that were not submitted by anybody – and especially those allegations that were already ruled upon in 2006 and found the verdict of not guilty before all this pressure from Congress came up – the university has acted unfairly and possibly illegally. That’s what we feel is a fundamental flaw in this particular investigation report that has been sent to Congress and now also put up on the web for anybody to see, ahead of the appeals process being completed.

You are the only member of your group that is being accused of misconduct.

In every dissemination of the success for the results that we have portrayed to the world I’ve always made sure that it gets clear that our success was a result of a joint effort. This is a team effort and I’m just one of the team members. But for the world of me I find that our detractors have successfully engaged in the divide and conquer approach – the old approach that I guess some countries used in the past – to kind of zoom in on just one person, the weakest of all the senior authors on the manuscript and try to bring down the entire science and technology base that we all worked so hard for. Despite the fact that all of my co-authors have risen up publicly and written strong letters of protest to the President of Purdue University and in the media, all of their inputs have been summarily ignored and dismissed. Even letters from other stalwarts were ignored such as letters of protest from the editor in chief of the Nuclear Engineering and Design journal, Professor Lohnert of University of Stuttgart who has come up and supported our work and I guess pointed out all those transgressions. That’s what really hurts in this case – the idea of being singled out for punishment because a scapegoat had to be found to present to Congress which controls virtually all of Purdue University’s research budget. I’m the one that detractors are targeting, despite the fact that this has been a team effort and everybody in the team stands behind it 100 percent and more.

What damage has been caused?

One cannot even start to recount the damage on multiple fronts. The fallout on the human front is something one appreciates only when it happens to you. When this sort of thing started about two years ago I started losing all of my research contracts, one after the other along with people from all over who were eagerly wishing to collaborate, not only for bubble fusion, but in other research topics as well. Not only that, but I have two children that go to Purdue University. These are engineering college students and to see their father being labelled in the local press as being guilty of misconduct, that by itself hurts on a personal level. And of course all the agony and mental grief that goes along with having to go through a multi-year process – this has been about three years now that this investigation has been going on. A severe ringing in the head has developed which the specialists have determined to be due to excessive stress. Such a situation plays havoc on a person’s career and I have witnessed it first-hand. Any and all awards that I was being nominated for fell by the wayside. Any and all prospects I had for promotion, or for opportunities to move higher in academia both within Purdue University as well as potentially to other more prestigious and amenable institutions were destroyed. Even prospective graduate students have shied away. And finally it certainly hurts from the pocketbook, from the financial perspective. Lawyers in the United States don’t come cheap. One can easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and virtually bankrupt themselves in the process of trying to defend themselves against major institutions such as Purdue University or Nature magazine, which relatively have unlimited resources and can tie up a person in the courts, from all this slander, libel and aspersions that have been cast. Perhaps most importantly, is also that this technology and the science which could potentially offer a solution to the world’s energy crises among other spinoff applications have been put back for over half a dozen years. Beyond a certain point, a person is forced to make a difficult choice between persevering for the benefit of mankind and taking steps to fulfil one’s obligations to support one’s family’s well-being.

How do you asses your options in the near future, even if the present appeals phase exonerates you?

How could I, in good conscience pursue bubble fusion while still being a faculty at Purdue University – considering how inept the present administration has proven itself to be in terms of fighting for the rights of their faculty members when faced with political pressures. There is constant talk at Purdue about the “wish” to become a pre-eminent university in the world. I can for one, vouch for the evitability of Purdue University remaining a second or third tier institution for the foreseeable future. This hurts too – since, considering the damage this place has done to my career and reputation, my choices and opportunities for transferring elsewhere are severely hampered and I must therefore, suffer the outcomes associated with being involved and associated with the status quo and force myself to not engage in scientific endeavours which draw the ire of competitors and detractors.

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