Saturday, March 24, 2007

More about Congress reviewing Purdue report on Rusi P. Taleyarkhan

Further to Bob Park's post on bubble fusion (Park fulminating on fusion, but what about Cha?), the New York Times had some discussion of Congr. Brad Miller's efforts in an article by Kenneth Chang:

Purdue investigated Dr. Taleyarkhan’s work and released a statement last month saying that the inquiry had cleared the scientist of charges of research misconduct.

A lack of details in the statement, including what charges were examined, led the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee to send a letter yesterday to Purdue’s president, Martin C. Jischke, asking for copies of the findings.

"There’s enough in published reports and in talk in the scientific community to raise questions," said Representative Brad Miller, the North Carolina Democrat who is chairman of the subcommittee.

In view of the billions of dollars the government spends on scientific research, Mr. Miller said, "we need to know we are getting valid sound research and not research that is being manipulated."

"We’ve got to count on the integrity of their reviews," he added.

Of next steps, Chang noted:

Mr. Miller said the subcommittee would look at the reports before deciding what to do. It could, for instance, hold hearings, but it does not have the power to impose a punishment against Purdue.

"It’s about informing Congress," Mr. Miller said. "We may very well decide we may need to change the law or change the funding formula. The purpose of what we are doing now is to find out what happened."

Chang indicated Purdue would comply with the request. LBE discussed the Dingell investigation in the Baltimore/Imanishi-Kari in the paper 88 JPTOS 239 published in March 2006.

IPBiz suggests that the Chang article in the New York Times may have UNDERPLAYED the severity expressed in the four page letter of March 21, 2007 of Miller to Jischke, which letter contains fourteen (14) footnotes.

The first two paragraphs of the letter lay out the authority of the committee to investigate.

The first paragraph of the second page states: "This particular paper was controversial from the start." [referring to Taleyarkhan’s 2002 paper in Science.]

Of the later confirmatory paper, the second paragraph of the second page states: " of the students saying he had nothing to do with the research in the article he supposedly co-authored." [IPBiz: reminds one of Schatten's statement about his role in the second Hwang paper and Lobo's statement about his role in the Cha paper in JRM. Will Miller investigate them?]

The second paragraph of the second page refers to allegations of fraud in Nature in March 2006, presumably the article authored by Eugenie Reich (although Miller does not identify Reich by name). In footnote 5, two articles are referenced by title (not by author or page) within the March 6, 2006 issue of Nature. Footnote 6 references a complaint by Dr. Ken Suslick to Peter Dunn of June 1, 2006. Footnote 13 references an article in Nature on February 15, 2007 (pages 690-1) that indicates the Purdue inquiry did not address the issues raised by Suslick. Curiously, Miller seems to be relying on the text in the Feb. 15, 2007 article in Nature to assert that Purdue has not fulfilled its obligations under DODI 3210.7.

On page 4 of the letter, Miller gave Purdue until 5pm on March 30, 2007 to comply with the request.

Any individual or institution receiving federal funding would be well advised to review the contents to Miller's letter. Different funding agencies have different review protocols, but generally the institution receiving funding (here, Purdue) is in charge of the review of misconduct. One recalls at the time of the Baltimore/Imanishi-Kari/O'Toole matter, a different procedure was in place.
IPBiz has relevant posts on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and Weiss of Washington Post talks about science fraud, but doesn't mention Jan-Hendrik Schon.

**Other coverage

Robert F. Service reported:

Miller says he'd like to know whether or not to believe Taleyarkhan's controversial claims that he's seen evidence for fusion in collapsing bubbles. But he's more interested in Purdue's investigation. "I think it's more of a concern about the procedures at Purdue to make sure they are assuring ethical conduct in research," Miller says. He adds that because the federal government spends billions of dollars on research at universities each year, it's essential that Congress ensure that misconduct investigations operate as intended.

Miller says it's not clear that happened in this case. "Despite the University's statement that no misconduct had occurred, many disturbing questions remain about the scope and adequacy of the investigation," says Miller's letter to Jischke. Among those questions: Why Purdue officials seem to have stopped one investigation in September only to launch another, and whether they looked into the full array of complaints against Taleyarkhan, including an alleged manipulation of scientific data.

In the past, Purdue officials have declined to make reports of their investigation public in order to comply with university rules on confidentiality. But in a statement issued late today, Purdue officials said they plan to comply with the committee’s request. Just what will happen after that depends on what the reports show, says Miller. But chances are the bubble fusion controversy will keep boiling for months to come.