Friday, March 10, 2006

The use of free lance writers by Nature: stem cells and bubble fusion

In the last month or so, two rather provocative stories have appeared in the British journal Nature, one concerning possible patent fraud POSSIBLY implicating Nobel laureate and Caltech president David Baltimore (allegation denied by Baltimore) and a different story suggesting that work of Rusi Taleyarkhan of Purdue University is being investigated by officials at Purdue. The stories were written, not by an employee of Nature, but by a freelance writer. The stories themselves are interesting, but right now I'll discuss procedural aspects of the stories, which is also interesting.

There were many stories about Rusi Taleyarkhan this week. As background, here is part of one from yahoo news:

Purdue Provost Sally Mason said her office was checking complaints from some of Taleyarkhan's co-workers.

"Purdue last week initiated a review of this research and these allegations," Mason said in a statement.

"The research claims involved are very significant and the concerns expressed are extremely serious. Purdue will explore all aspects of the situation thoroughly and announce the results at the appropriate time," she added.

"To ensure objectivity, the review is being conducted by Purdue's Office of the Vice President for Research, which is separate from the College of Engineering."
The journal Nature reported on Wednesday that it had interviewed several of Taleyarkhan's colleagues who suspect something is amiss.

"Faculty members Lefteri Tsoukalas and Tatjana Jevremovic, along with several others who do not wish to be named, say that since Taleyarkhan began working at Purdue, he has removed the equipment with which they were trying to replicate his work, claimed as 'positive' experimental runs for which they never saw the raw data, and opposed the publication of their own negative results," Nature said in a statement.

"In addition, Brian Naranjo at the University of California, Los Angeles, is submitting to Physical Review Letters an analysis of Taleyarkhan's recently published data that strongly suggests he has detected not fusion, but a standard lab source of radioactivity." Naranjo's lab reported in April 2005 that it had achieved cold fusion by heating a lithium crystal soaked in deuterium gas.

Engineers and physicists have been cautious about Taleyarkhan's technique but say in theory it could work.

**The interesting thing about this flap is that it has been triggered by a story by a free lance reporter who published in Nature. One recalls that in the Hwang matter, investigations by the Korean tv show "PD Notebook" (somewhat analogous to "60 Minutes") revealed facts about the Hwang matter, not previously known by the general population. The Nature investigation evolved along different lines, and revived a controversy that was previously known by the general population. Further, while the "PD notebook" investigation preceded any recognition by the journal Science of problems with the Hwang work (and operated independently of the journal Science and was in fact largely ignored by the journal Science), the journal Nature published work by an independent writer.

Steven B. Krivit ( writes:

On the morning of March 8, 2006, Nature published an investigation by freelance writer Eugenie Samuel Reich of the unique fusion research pioneered by Rusi Taleyarkhan, professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue University. Within 24 hours, the story was picked up by 50 news outlets around the world.

[Of Taleyarkhan's paper in the journal Science in 2002]

"When Science published Taleyarkhan's initial paper, the three researchers who peer-reviewed the work took the unusual step of shedding their anonymity to criticize the journal's decision to publish. The three - Putterman, Suslick and Crum - argued that Taleyarkhan had not ruled out several potential sources of error in his paper.

When Kennedy was questioned about the 2002 Taleyarkhan paper by the Washington Post this week, he was very clear that he had anticipated controversy about the paper.

"There was some disagreement among peer reviewers," Kennedy said, "but the majority opinion of some very smart people was that it was an interesting result and should be published."


"The original concept for a cavitation hot fusion reactor was patented by Hugh Flynn, now deceased, of Rochester University, New York, in 1982," Tessien said. "Felipe Gaitan then discovered single-bubble sonoluminescence in 1989, which allowed scientists for the first time to study how hot the imploding bubbles were getting.


In February 2005, the BBC Horizon program ran a television documentary dramatically titled "An Experiment to Save the World."

At the end of the show, the narrator announced the conclusions of the made-for-TV replication: "We found nothing. It is possible that other scientists may succeed in reproducing Rusi Taleyarkhan's results, but for now, all we can say is that the dream of a shortcut to unlimited clean energy forever must remain just that, a dream."

New Energy Times asked Taleyarkhan on March 9, 2006, why he agreed to participate with the BBC Horizon show and if there was anything that surprised him after seeing it.

"This started off innocently," Taleyarkhan said. "I recall asking [Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne] Norberg for guidance along with Bill Baitinger, [special assistant to the vice president for research of Purdue.] He was skeptical but didn't prevent it from going forward.

"In good-faith, I agreed to go ahead. I found out their true intentions later when it was revealed that BBC intended to fund quick-turnaround work at UCLA. No funding was offered for Purdue even on telling the producer that we can't use university resources for technical work for free, but I did not pursue that further.

[Excerpt from the March 15, 2005 New York Times Article: The only known attempt to reproduce the [Taleyarkhan] experiment was by Dr. Seth Putterman of UCLA, whose work was financed by an unusual source, the BBC. For an episode of its "Horizon" science series that focused on the [Taleyarkhan] experiment, the BBC gave Dr. Putterman $70,000 to try to replicate it.]

In a series of four articles released simultaneously by Nature on Wednesday (March 8, 2006), the journal attempted to silence and discredit Taleyarkhan and obliterate bubble fusion.
The Los Angeles Times also reported that Suslick accused Taleyarkhan of committing "fraud."

Reuters decided to titled their story "University checks 'bubble fusion' fraud claim."

However, neither Purdue Provost Sally Mason or spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg consider this a matter of fraud or even worthy of an investigation; instead, Mason said, it is "a review of the research and the allegations related to it."


New Energy Times noticed the lack of comments from Taleyarkhan in the four March 8, 2006, Nature articles and asked him if they had attempted to get his side of the story before publication.

"No one from Nature ever contacted me or make any attempts whatsoever," Taleyarkhan said. "Only the freelance writer Eugenie Reich made contact with me starting around February 20, 2006."

"On discussion with my co-authors it was getting clear that the writer was striving for a sensational story stoked with input from detractors and competitors."


"She introduced herself as a freelance writer," Taleyarkhan said. "She said she might submit the story to Nature or some other publication."

Tsoukalas and Jevremovic have declined all requests for comments since the publication of the Nature article. A source inside Purdue told New Energy Times that "Jevremovic is now stating that she was misrepresented" by Nature.

Nature reported that Taleyarkhan "has declined to share the raw data he claims to have obtained in successful experiments on shared equipment." The journal said, "The faculty members add that he has opposed publication of their own negative results and has removed the equipment on which they were trying to replicate his work."


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