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Welcome to Bubblegate
By Steven B. Krivit
Editor, New Energy Times

[This article is Copyleft 2008 New Energy Times. Permission is granted to reproduce this article as long as the article, this notice and the publication information shown above are included in their entirety and no changes are made to this article.]

According to nearly all reports in the media thus far, nuclear engineer and Purdue professor Rusi Taleyarkhan appears guilty of science fraud.

However, none of the allegations of scientific fraud from Taleyarkhan’s challengers and competitors have stuck.

His revolutionary claim is for a novel nuclear process known as bubble fusion, or sonofusion. He said that it may lead to a new source of clean nuclear energy.

University of Illinois chemistry professor Kenneth Suslick is one of those accusing Taleyarkhan of scientific fraud.

However, not a single investigation report concurs with Suslick’s statements to the media and to investigators. Suslick declined to comment to New Energy Times in our earlier investigations.

Science skeptics commonly believe that a failure to replicate a novel phenomenon confirms the claimed phenomenon's nonexistence. It does not. Failure to replicate means failure to replicate.

Failure to replicate could imply that a) the claimed phenomenon does not exist, b) the claimed phenomenon is not sufficiently understood by the originator, c) the claimed phenomenon is not sufficiently understood by the replicator, d) the replicator lacked the skill or tools to perform a successful replication, e) the originator did not want the replicator to succeed or f) the replicator did not want to confirm the originator's work.

For example, an attempted replication of Taleyarkhan's work at UCLA, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was scuttled by physics professor Seth Putterman and his colleagues. New Energy Times exposed this on Pages 49-56 in our Special Report on Bubble Fusion/Sonofusion. Putterman declined to comment to New Energy Times in our earlier investigations.

Scientists frequently help journalists expose bogus claims. Putterman helped Nature journalist Eugenie Reich in this manner, with the idea that Taleyarkhan's claims were bogus. However, no proof of science fraud or mistakes has been confirmed; yet the Reich articles were twisted and written in such a way as to jeopardize Taleyarkhan's reputation and career.

Journalists always question the motives of sources and try to identify potential conflicts. In her articles, Reich failed to report that Putterman was a direct competitor of Taleyarkhan's for both funds and fame and that a longstanding competition to be the first to achieve bubble/sonofusion had been running.

Our Special Report reveals Putterman's close collaboration with Reich as well as the details of this bubble battle.

Science skeptics might assume that Taleyarkhan and a few of his colleagues working on the frontiers of science are guilty of science misconduct. However, these skeptics would be unlikely to suspect that top administrators from one of the most prominent U.S. universities are guilty of negligence, malfeasance and harassment.

Welcome to Bubblegate.

Let's backtrack to March 8, 2002, when the science aspect of this dramatic controversy began. That was the day when Taleyarkhan's first bubble/sonofusion paper published in Science.

The visible political aspect of the controversy began exactly four years later, on March 8, 2006, when Reich wrote a devastating though largely groundless series of four articles on Taleyarkhan and his work in Nature.

Despite two years of numerous investigations and audits and a handful of indignant critics casting a cloud over Taleyarkhan's research and integrity, he has come out clean so far.

One investigation is pending an appeal, although the Purdue administration jumped the gun and passed judgment on Taleyarkhan on July 18 in a press release.

One of the key players in this scandal has been the former head of the Purdue School of Nuclear Engineering, Lefteri Tsoukalas, who, according to the Purdue press office, suddenly resigned as the head of the school partway through this drama. Here is a brief timeline of the various investigations:

  • Feb. 7, 2006: Tsoukalas establishes an illegal fact-finding committee to investigate Taleyarkhan.
  • March 1, 2006: A DARPA review team carries out an on-site audit of and observation of several of Taleyarkhan's experiments.
  • March 2006: Purdue begins an examination of facts, though not a formal C-22 investigation.
  • Sept. 5, 2006: The first Purdue C-22 investigation of Taleyarkhan starts; a formal inquiry committee is set up.
  • Dec. 15, 2006: The first Purdue C-22 investigation ends, exonerating Taleyarkhan.
  • March 21, 2007: A congressional investigation of Taleyarkhan, begun by Brad Miller (D-NC), begins.
  • May 10, 2007: Miller completes his investigation, which was prompted by anonymous sources. His investigation relies heavily on published news stories. The investigation concludes that Purdue needs to start another investigation.
  • May 10, 2007: The second Purdue C-22 investigation of Taleyarkhan begins in response to Miller and in conjunction with an Office of Naval Research inquiry (ONR was the funding agency responsible for DARPA contracts that were awarded to Purdue).
  • Aug. 27, 2007: The second Purdue C-22 inquiry committee forms.
  • March 7, 2008: Taleyarkhan files a civil complaint against Tsoukalas and Jevremovic with the s tate of Indiana.
  • April 18, 2008: The second Purdue C-22 investigation committee submits a report to the Office of Naval Research.
  • July 17, 2008: The Office of Naval Research accepts Purdue's C-22 report. A 30-day appeal period begins.
  • July 18, 2008: Purdue issues a press release stating that Taleyarkhan was found guilty on two charges of misconduct.

Documents provided to New Energy Times show that the inquiry committee for the formal Purdue C-22 Investigation received original allegations from the following individuals and organizations:

  • Office of Naval Research (anonymous underlying source)
  • Kenneth Suslick (University of Illinois)
  • Lefteri Tsoukalas (Purdue University)
  • Seth Putterman (UCLA)
  • Brian Naranjo (UCLA)
  • Joshua Walter (Purdue University)

After all the investigations, with the exception of the most recent one, completed on April 18, Taleyarkhan has been exonerated on all charges.

Taleyarkhan said that the second C-22 investigation started with 34 allegations, as determined by the C-22 inquiry committee. He said that 22 of the allegations were dismissed outright and the remaining 12 were forwarded to the C-22 investigation committee, though the numbering system shown in the report makes this hard to follow.

Taleyarkhan said that two allegations were added after the C-22 inquiry committee forwarded the 12 allegations to the C-22 investigation committee.

The most recent C-22 investigation committee completed its task on April 18, and Purdue released its report on July 18. The so-called final "Report of the Investigation Committee in the Matter of Rusi Taleyarkhan" dismissed all but two allegations; they pertain to research misconduct. Both of the allegations in the report say that Taleyarkhan took actions "with falsifying intent" to make confirmatory replications appear to have been done "independently."

  • Allegation A.2 states that Taleyarkhan added the name of Adam Butt, a graduate research assistant in both Purdue's nuclear engineering school and the school of aeronautics and astronautics, to a paper by Yiban Xu, a post-doctoral research associate in the school of nuclear engineering. The allegation states that Butt did not contribute significantly to the paper.
  • Allegation B.2 states that Taleyarkhan, "with falsifying intent," stated in a 2006 paper published in Physical Review Letters that his 2002 paper in Science had been "independently confirmed."

Taleyarkhan has prepared a response to these allegations and is to submit it to Purdue today; however, there are two inexplicable matters relating to the procedural nature of the allegations.

The first is that, according to Taleyarkhan, these allegations were not stated in the Aug. 27, 2007, C-22 inquiry committee report. They appeared, however, in the C-22 investigation committee's report.

"This self-fabrication of new allegations violates the charter given to the C-22 investigation committee," Taleyarkhan wrote to New Energy Times.

This is a significant procedural and legal violation, according to Taleyarkhan. The investigation committee’s rules do not empower it to add new charges.

"According to the state law (Executive Memorandum C-22) governing such investigations for Purdue in Indiana," Taleyarkhan wrote, " following the submission of allegations of misconduct, the provost appoints an Inquiry Committee of peers without conflicts of interest. The Inquiry Committee looks at all the allegations, investigates the submitted facts/rebuttals and decides which allegations should be investigated further and which allegations are baseless and to be dismissed.

“The provost then forms a second, Investigation Committee, formally transmits the forwarded allegations and gives the new committee the charter to investigate those allegations. The Investigation Committee then investigates these allegations and passes judgment, after which a 25-day appeal process starts."

And most interestingly, Taleyarkhan said that he was investigated and exonerated on these same two charges in 2006. Normally, in court, defendants are protected from being tried twice on the same set of charges; this is called double jeopardy, and protection from it is a constitutionally protected right.

Here is the evidence for Taleyarkhan's first exoneration of the charges, from December 2006:

The full report is here.

Why did Purdue try Taleyarkhan a second time on the same charges? Why and who added the additional charges illegally? And why did Purdue rush to distribute a press release before affording Taleyarkhan the opportunity to appeal and before affording the university the opportunity to consider any possible merit of his appeal?

Speaking of press releases, why, several years ago, did Purdue give the impression that Butt and Xu were both contributors - the main contributors - to the work as shown in a July 12, 2005, press release?

This press release, which includes a photo of both researchers in a laboratory setting, implies that the paper and the research were the work of both Xu and Butt.

The press release states, "Xu and Butt now work in Taleyarkhan's lab, but all of the research on which the new paper is based was conducted before they joined the lab, and the research began at Purdue before Taleyarkhan had become a Purdue faculty member. The two researchers used an identical 'carbon copy' of the original test chamber designed by Taleyarkhan, and they worked under the sponsorship and direction of Lefteri Tsoukalas, head of the School of Nuclear Engineering."

The April 18, 2008, report from the C-22 investigation committee explains that the University News Service, Taleyarkhan, and Tsoukalas bear responsibility for the "misleading" impression given by the July 2005 press release.

The April 18, 2008, report states that the University News Service, Taleyarkhan, and Tsoukalas failed to employ sufficient caution and allow sufficient time to prepare the press release and "did not employ the external checks which the News Service customarily employs."

Messages left for Emil Venere, the writer of the July 2005 press release, were not returned.

Taleyarkhan's attorney, John Lewis, said Purdue is playing dirty pool with Taleyarkhan.

"Purdue released the conclusion of the investigation committee to the public while the appeals process is being acted upon," Lewis wrote to New Energy Times." As such, Purdue has intentionally opened the door for Rusi to provide his response publicly, including information that was not even considered by the committee."

Why would Purdue do such a thing?

The explanation for Purdue's attempts to intimidate and harm Taleyarkhan is revealed in the story of an academic administration fiasco that Purdue officials presumably hoped would never see the light of day.

Administrators at Purdue apparently sacrificed one of their own - Taleyarkhan - not only to protect another of their own - Tsoukalas - but also to cover up the real problem at Purdue: the chaotic and dysfunctional School of Nuclear Engineering formerly headed by Tsoukalas.

Bubblegate Exposed

Bubblegate begins to unravel with the Indiana civil complaint filed by Taleyarkhan against Tsoukalas and another School of Nuclear Engineering professor, Tatjana Jevremovic, on March 7, 2008. A trial date has not been set.

The section of the complaint called "Nature of This Action" states, “This is a conspiracy involving certain individuals who made public statements to a worldwide magazine, Nature Magazine, through means that have falsely and maliciously defamed Taleyarkhan and have sought to harass, discriminate and intimidate Taleyarkhan on numerous occasions for the purpose of trying him and important scientific research, all with claims that have no merit."

One key piece of evidence provided to New Energy Times is a signed affidavit from a staff person in the School of Nuclear Engineering. Not only does this affidavit - in which the witness writes that he/she will testify "under oath if called upon to testify" - confirm the actions of Tsoukalas as we reported in the Special Report on Bubble Fusion/Sonofusion but it also reveals in detail that the real perpetrator of justice, ethics and conscience violations in the School of Nuclear Engineering was Tsoukalas, not Taleyarkhan. The affidavit explicitly describes fraudulent activity, not by Taleyarkhan but by Tsoukalas.

Purdue Plays Hardball

Documents provided to New Energy Times show that the recent Purdue investigation committee was guided by attorney William P. Kealey of the law firm Stuart & Branigin.

Taleyarkhan said that his evidence package for his civil complain includes a "recorded voice mail message conveyed by [Taleyarkhan's attorney Larry Selander from] Kealey stating Purdue administration will subject me to punishment if I did not go along with their report they have sent to the feds, the level of punishment commensurate with the level of my cooperation."

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