Monday, February 19, 2007

Taleyarkhan Back With A Pop

Okay, so I'm stealing a bit of the New Scientist headline, but anyway, it looks like Rusi Taleyarkhan is claiming victory in his battle against charges of scientific fraud or incompentence, launched in 2002 by skeptics of his claims of creating sonofusion. Those charges were remade in 2006 by UCLA grad student Brian Naranjo, who suggested that the neutron flux Taleyarkhan was reading in fact came from improperly stored lab samples of californium. Purdue University investigated, and recently declared Taleyarkhan innocent in any wrongdoing. (Of course, this doesn't mean he isn't sloppy, and the neutrons did come from the californium.) The 2002 work has since been duplicated by Edward Forringer at LeTourneau University in Texas.

There's a much longer New York Times article on the subject with this additional material:

Critics of Dr. Taleyarkhan said other wording in the statement suggested that the university had disregarded concerns and accusations raised by non-Purdue scientists and instead had concentrated on one seemingly small issue: whether it was improper for the professor to have left his name off two scientific papers.

“The Purdue administration apparently narrowly focused the committee’s charge and avoided the question of whether the research was doctored,” said Kenneth S. Suslick, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The reason this is apparently important is because Taleyarkhan may have been playing fast and loose with credit in order to make it appear that the earlier alleged duplication of his results were fraudulent because the group that claimed to have reproduced them included, well, Taleyarkhan:
That appears to refer to a July 2005 announcement that two other Purdue scientists had also produced sonofusion. Dr. Taleyarkhan said this represented independent confirmation of his findings.

Others quickly questioned how independent the two scientists — Yiban Xu, a postdoctoral researcher, and Adam Butt, a graduate student — really were. Both were members of Dr. Taleyarkhan’s research group.

Dr. Taleyarkhan maintained that those experiments were performed in early 2004, before the two scientists joined his group, and that he had merely served as a consultant. (Mr. Butt did not join the group until May 2004 and did not participate in the taking of the data reported in the papers.)

Two scientific papers describing the results list Dr. Xu and Mr. Butt as authors, but not Dr. Taleyarkhan. Dr. Taleyarkhan is thanked in the acknowledgments.

If the scope of the inquiry was limited to whether it was unethical for Dr. Taleyarkhan to have left his name off the list of authors, “I guess I’m not overwhelmingly surprised that the committee decided ‘Not proved,’ ” Dr. Suslick said. “But that’s not the real issue.”

And old Taleyarkhan bête noir Seth Putterman returns to the scene:
In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, Dr. Suslick and Seth J. Putterman, a professor of physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and another persistent critic of Dr. Taleyarkhan, said they had precisely repeated the 2002 experiment. They reported that they found none of the neutrons that would be the telltale sign of fusion and put the upper limit at just one-10,000th of what Dr. Taleyarkhan had reported.

Via Slashdot.

Update 3/2/07: Corrected the link to the NYT story above.

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