Monday, January 15, 2007

More on the USPTO patenting pseudoscience

An earlier post on Rislove's law review article about the USPTO patenting pseudoscience got some traffic, including a rather interesting post. [No, LBE has never met Rislove.]

Footnote 20 of LBE's article on the Hwang fraud in JPTOS [88 JPTOS 239 (March 2006)] quoted John Gearhart: "Should reviewers have caught some of this? Yeah, probably they should have," said John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Science's board of reviewers. "Obviously great claims require great proof, and maybe more people should review such a paper," he said. Note that Gearhart later served on the Brauman panel investigating the Hwang fraud.

The idea that "great claims require great proof" applies not only to Hwang's claims about SCNT but also to Joe Newman's and to Jan-Hendrik Schon's.

Although the proof burden should have been the same, the scientific baseline was not the same. Not one U.S. researcher questioned Hwang's claims prior to the unraveling in December 2005. In constrast, within a month or so of the announcement of cold fusion in 1989, there was a strong outcry AGAINST the work of Pons. Notwithstanding Dan Rather's coverage of Joe Newman, most scientists (and the USPTO) were skeptical of Newman's work.

The work of Schon at Bell Labs played out differently. Initially, there was acceptance, but when others could not duplicate the work, there was questioning. Scientists such as Solomon at IBM wrote the flagship journals and said the work was wrong. The journals did nothing. Only when there was a leak from inside Bell Labs about duplicated graphs (ironically, just as there would be a leak from inside South Korea about Hwang's duplicated photos) did traction for an investigation develop.

As noted elsewhere on IPBiz, LBE contacted the journal Science about errors in their report in July 2006 about continuation applications at the USPTO. Ebert got no further than Solomon, with Science standing by the "truth" of their story. One can read 88 JPTOS 743 to assess how truthful Science was.

The post about Ebert/Rislove is here.


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