Saturday, July 19, 2008

Science research misconduct

On a relatively slow news day, there is a news about science research misconduct mildly attracted my attention this morning. I say "mildly" because the research field involved -- nuclear fusion by bubbles -- is totally outside my domain of interest. And science misconduct tends to be usually less than what meets the eye. Here's the background reported in New Scientist:

Controversy has brewed once again over "bubble fusion", once hailed as potential green energy source. Nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan, who claimed in 2002 to have achieved nuclear fusion by popping bubbles in a solvent, has been accused of research misconduct by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Taleyarkhan, who was then at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and is now at Purdue, claimed in the journal Science that by bombarding a cool solvent with neutrons and sound waves, his team created bubbles that triggered nuclear fusion. Such a feat could pave the way to abundant cheap and clean power.

But when many experiments by other scientists failed to replicate the work, a Purdue committee began investigating allegations of misconduct against Taleyarkhan in 2006. In early 2007, the committee cleared Taleyarkhan and his team of misconduct.

So there was an investigation that did not find misconduct. But:
But a second investigation began in May 2007 when further, secret allegations surfaced. These allegations were made public on Friday, when Purdue announced that it had completed its second investigation, which concludes that Taleyarkhan committed two counts of misconduct.
For a detail of the allegations and the panel's findings can be found here. Now the first charge:
The first is that he added the name of a researcher called Adam Butt to the list of authors of his bubble fusion papers, knowing that Butt was not a significant contributor to the experiments, data analysis or paper preparation.
does not struck me as particularly serious. And
Secondly, in a 2006 paper in Physical Review Letters, Taleyarkhan stated that the experimental results reported in his original Science paper "have now been independently confirmed". The committee concluded that this assertion was false and constituted misconduct.
In which the "independent" work was in fact his own except that his own name was not used. As it is aimed at deceiving so can be interpreted as a misconduct. Somehow I wonder how many scientists would become angry by this kind of misconduct -- especially knowing full well all the deceitful things that Algore employed in making his notorious documentary "An inconvenient truth." And many of our poor school children are forced to watch it again and again.

Of course, comparing a scientist to Algore would be an insult to the scientist at any rate. I apologize. I don't know Dr. Taleyarkhan, never heard of him before reading his news today. His case is not over by a long shot. I am not condoning whatever he had done, wittingly or otherwise. But we are living in a double-, triple, and multiple standards society. Things can be o.k. for one but not o.k. for another -- depends upon who you are, who do you know, your hair or eye colors, and your club and party affiliations, or whatever circumstances dictate. As George Orwell noticed years ago: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

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