Saturday, May 19, 2007

The curious case of Rusi Taleyarkhan

Rusi Taleyarkhan made a splash several years ago when he published a paper -- in Science! -- on the discovery of 'sonofusion'. His results have been disputed, because those who tried to reproduce them have not been able to. The implication is that there's something fraudulent about the original results.

In his defence, Taleyarkhan pointed to an 'independent confirmation' of his original results. But, these results came from his own lab! The two authors of the paper reporting these confirmatory results were his post-doc and grad student; and they used Taleyarkhan's apparatus. Clearly, things are quite murky. When Taleyarkhan's institution -- Purdue University -- instituted an inquiry, even murkier details emerged:

... [I]n response to a fact-finding committee convened by the nuclear engineering school, Mr. Butt [the grad student] signed a statement that he did not participate in any of the experiments or the analysis of the data and that he had been added as an author to one of the papers a week before submission and was not aware that he was on the second paper until a week before it was presented at a conference. Dr. Xu [the post-doc] declined to answer questions about the papers, but the committee noted similarities between them and several of Dr. Taleyarkhan’s.

Janet Stemwedel has an excellent commentary on this rather sordid affair (which Purdue has been forced to re-investigate; an earlier inquiry cleared Taleyarkhan of misconduct three months ago). She has some additional details as well.