Going to Court
Taleyarkhan waited until the day the statute of limitations expired, March 7, 2008, and filed a civil complaint against Tsoukalas, Jevremovic, and Does 1-5 in Tippecanoe County Court for defamation. On March 13, 2009, Jevremovic settled with Taleyarkhan. However, the attorney who took his case pro bono eventually stopped pursuing the case, and the judge dismissed it before the matters with the remaining defendants were resolved.
On May 4, 2010, Taleyarkhan filed an employment discrimination complaint with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana against Purdue University. Among other things in the complaint, he claimed that Tsoukalas engaged in discriminatory workplace practices.
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Purdue offered Taleyarkhan a settlement, but it did not include any steps to publicly repair his reputation, so he declined the offer. Purdue has made numerous attempts to get the complaint dismissed. Taleyarkhan is waiting for his day in court.
On March 8, 2006, the Purdue News Service announced that Purdue had created an examination committee to see whether a formal inquiry, as governed by its research integrity policy, was warranted. The “examination committee” was an ad-hoc process that Purdue invented outside of its formal research integrity policy. This time, the committee was led by university administrators, not the head of the school. The news release stated that the review began a week earlier. All evidence indicates, however, that the review began sometime afterward and as a result of the 11 a.m. meeting in Mason’s office.
On March 15, 2006, Reich sent her insinuations of fraud to the Purdue examination committee. Her action was an unusual move for a reporter who was leading the media coverage on news stories that implied its subject was guilty of fraud.
Tsoukalas’ media attack on Taleyarkhan outraged some of his fellow professors, and it was the last straw for them. On April 7, 2006, six of them sent a letter of “no confidence” about Tsoukalas to Mason, according to Alvin Solomon, a former professor in the school.
“We the undersigned respectfully, and with due respect wish to voice our no-confidence statement on the performance of the current head of the school of nuclear engineering. Considering the spate of egregious developments that you are well aware of, Purdue University would be well-served by a prompt change in leadership of the school of nuclear engineering,” the professors wrote.
Katehi left Purdue in April, and Leah Jamieson took her place as the interim dean.
On May 2, 2006, the professors met with Jamieson and showed her the letter of “no confidence.”
“When we, the disenfranchised faculty, talked to [Jamieson] about what had transpired in the school,” Solomon wrote, just after Katehi left, “[Jamieson] was very well informed.”
Shortly after May 30, 2006, according to additional FOIA-obtained e-mails, Jamieson began a review of Tsoukalas.
On July 2, 2006, Tsoukalas wrote to Mason and alleged that Taleyarkhan had faked the replication performed by Yiban Xu and Adam Butt.
“What is very important, crucial I would say,” Tsoukalas wrote, “is that he faked [the] replication.”
Tsoukalas gave the letter to Chang, who published it in the New York Times the following year.
On June 20, 2006, the Purdue news service quoted Charles O. Rutledge, the vice president for research, who said that the examination committee had completed its task. Rutledge did not state what would happen next.
“Any further action in this matter will be conducted as an internal matter under appropriate university procedures,” he said. “Specific recommendations of the examination committee and any subsequent steps by the university will be treated as confidential internal matters.”
That would have been the usual protocol. But in the next two years, Purdue did not treat Taleyarkhan’s case as a confidential internal matter.
On July 8, 2006, Putterman wrote to Coblenz at DARPA and Peter Schmidt at the Office of Naval Research, the program managers responsible for nuclear cavitation research. Putterman shared with them detailed knowledge of a forthcoming Nature news article by Reich that was going to question Taleyarkhan’s motives and his use of government funds.
By July 11, 2006, Purdue had received formal allegations against Taleyarkhan, among others. Jamieson notified Butt, Revankar, Taleyarkhan, Xu and Jay Gore, a professor in the College of Engineering, that they were under investigation. She advised them of the governing policy.
“I am informing you of the allegations of possible research misconduct against you,” Jamieson wrote.
Even though Purdue had received sufficient allegations to launch an official inquiry in July, and even though it started that inquiry process, Purdue administrators solicited additional allegations two months later.
On Sept. 5, 2006, Rutledge, the vice president for research, wrote a letter to Tsoukalas telling him that, if he had any allegation against Taleyarkhan, he must submit it in writing by Sept. 10. Tsoukalas submitted his allegations the same day. Rutledge wrote the same letter to Martin Bertodano.
Shortly before Oct. 12, 2006, according to FOIA-obtained e-mails, some of the faculty in the school demanded that Jamieson remove Tsoukalas, which she did. Tsoukalas resigned and remains a professor in the school.
On Dec. 15, 2006, after the Purdue inquiry committee reviewed the allegations and the available evidence, it cleared Taleyarkhan, Revankar, Xu and Butt of all charges.
Undeterred, Tsoukalas pressed on. On Jan. 29, 2007, according to additional FOIA-obtained e-mails, Tsoukalas again contacted Inspector General Holly Adams at the Office of Naval Research, and this time filed a formal complaint against Taleyarkhan, accusing him of science fraud. Adams decided that Tsoukalas’ allegations had merit, and she opened a new case. She directed Purdue to begin a second investigation against Taleyarkhan. Congress got involved, too. Brad Miller, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, independently began his own investigation on March 22, 2007. He relied heavily on Reich’s stories in Nature for his “facts.”
On March 9, 2007, in a message to university professors, Mason pleaded with her colleagues to be respectful of Taleyarkhan’s right to confidentiality, the university’s policy, and its ideals.
“Some of our faculty have urged the university to present its side of this story more aggressively,” Mason wrote. “Because our own policies and federal guidelines on the investigation of cases related to integrity require a high degree of confidentiality, Purdue has refrained from responding in detail to the numerous questions presented by certain members of the media. Although this stance has led to negative coverage for the university, we have been — and remain — committed to paying that price if necessary in order to remain true to our policies and our ideals.
“I want to assure each of you that we have adhered meticulously to university policy and federal guidelines in carrying out this procedure. We have endeavored to provide all the parties involved with the degree of confidentiality that we believe each of you would want and deserve if you were to become part of a case in which integrity was the central issue.”
Mason left Purdue four months later, in July.
When that investigation concluded a year later, on July 18, 2008, Purdue and its new provost, Randy Woodson, bypassed its policy of confidentiality and its ideals.
March 2007 was a busy month for Adams.
On March 12, Reich sent Adams her allegations and insinuations of science research misconduct and fraud against Taleyarkhan. Suslick sent his on March 13, and sometime that month Putterman, avoiding the term “fraud,” submitted his.
On April 22, 2007, Suslick and Putterman sent their allegations to Purdue.
Putterman wrote to Dunn saying that Taleyarkhan’s “generation of false data… was reckless and constitutes research misconduct.”
Suslick wrote that Taleyarkhan had committed science fraud and research misconduct.
On May 7, 2007, Rep. Miller and his subcommittee wrote their report. They concluded that the Purdue administration had been lax about enforcing its policy on research misconduct, and the subcommittee forced Purdue to conduct another investigation of Taleyarkhan.
“After reviewing the report [from the first Purdue investigation],” Miller wrote, “it is our opinion that the review was not thorough in that it never addressed the validity of the underlying research as Provost Mason promised. The result was a missed opportunity to address a potential scientific integrity scandal which has seriously divided and damaged the nuclear engineering school.”
Miller was correct about a scientific integrity scandal, but he had the wrong target in his sights. In a FOIA-requested letter obtained by New Energy Times, Miller wrote to Martin Jischke, the Purdue president, on May 9, 2007.
Miller repeated some of the statements made in his subcommittee’s letter and added a few extra statements. He wrote about the potential importance of the Taleyarkhan group’s research.
“Dr. Taleyarkhan’s claim to have achieved fusion on a tabletop in a laboratory,” Miller wrote, “if true, would hold the prospect of limitless, cheap energy without environmental consequence. This would not simply be a significant scientific achievement but a transformational event in human history.”
Miller then reminded Jischke of the conditions required for Purdue to receive federal grants.
“Every university that receives federal research funding is required to have procedures to address evidence of research misconduct,” Miller wrote.
After Miller criticized Jischke for an inadequate first inquiry, he implored Jischke to do better the next time.
“Purdue is a premier research and educational institution,” Miller wrote. “One of its goals is to teach the importance of scientific integrity to its students and future scientists. I sincerely hope that the next inquiry will be conducted in a manner worthy of your great institution.”
Jischke left Purdue later that month.
The second investigation took place under the watch of the new Purdue president, France A. Córdova.
On Jan. 17, 2008, Tsoukalas and seven of his allies sent a letter to Córdova. In it, they attacked Jamieson.
“We are facing enormous difficulties at the School of Nuclear Engineering because of Dean Jamieson’s harmful decisions and unwarranted interventions,” Tsoukalas and his colleagues wrote. “Dr. Jamieson continues a pattern of engagement with the alleged bubble fusion fraud that involves possible obstruction of justice, apparent collusion with protagonists/confidants, and apparent retaliations.”
According to an e-mail exchange in March 2008 between Adams and Edith Holleman, a congressional staffer at the House of Representatives, Tsoukalas had been in contact with Holleman and was regularly updating Holleman on the Purdue Taleyarkhan investigation.
The second investigation concluded in the summer of 2008 under the authority of the new Purdue president, Córdova. Purdue was unable to find any evidence of fraud on the part of Taleyarkhan.
Its investigation committee, however, guided by the outside law firm Stuart and Branigin, circumvented the university’s policy on research misconduct, created two new allegations against Taleyarkhan, and decided that those allegations were indicative of research misconduct.
One allegation created and adjudicated by the committee determined that Taleyarkhan was guilty of research misconduct for stating his opinion that he believed their experiment had been independently confirmed. In the other allegation, the committee decided that it was inappropriate for Taleyarkhan to encourage a student to be listed as a co-author on the paper for that replication because the student had performed only one day’s work, to cross-check the data.
Here is the exact language of Allegation A.2: “Dr. Taleyarkhan with falsifying intent caused Mr. Adam Butt’s name to be added to the author bylines of the papers even though Mr. Butt was not a significant contributor to the experiments, the data analyses, or the writing of the manuscripts.”
Here’s what actually happened: Xu, not Taleyarkhan, added Butt’s name to the paper. Xu did so because Butt performed cross-checks of Xu’s data after the experiments had taken place. Butt did the cross-checks because a journal reviewer rejected Xu’s original submitted manuscript. The reviewer said that, as the sole author on the manuscript, Xu needed a second author to perform these critical checks. Taleyarkhan asked and/or encouraged Butt to do the checks — and for this, he was deemed guilty of research misconduct.
Here is the exact language of Allegation B.2: “Dr. Taleyarkhan with falsifying intent stated in the opening paragraph of his paper in Physical Review Letters 96:034301 (2006) that ‘these observations [referring to Science 295:1868 (2002)] have now been independently confirmed.’”
Purdue found him guilty of research misconduct because the committee did not agree with his stated opinion about the independence of the work.
In Purdue’s 2008 press release, the university used more-severe language and said that Taleyarkhan had “falsified the research record” because he stated that Xu and Butt performed their replication independently.
Taleyarkhan made himself an easy target by asserting, in January 2006, that Xu and Butt — researchers in his own school, who at times were under his direction — had independently replicated his group’s work.
Taleyarkhan knew that the Tsoukalas group had replicated the claim, but this fact was not publicly known at the time. By January 2006, Taleyarkhan did not expect Tsoukalas ever to make it known. Taleyarkhan was eager for his claim to be confirmed.
Taleyarkhan expected that the scientific community would accept his word that Xu and Butt performed their own experiments. He expected that the community would agree with his opinion of independence, although he and his five co-authors stand alone in that view.
“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 press release said.
That statement was not entirely correct. According to Xu’s sworn statement, he performed the first set of experiments for his and Butt’s 2005 paper between January and May 2004. He performed these in Tsoukalas’ laboratory. Taleyarkhan’s new lab wasn’t ready until May. That part of the press release is correct.
But Taleyarkhan had become a faculty member in 2003, and Xu began working under him in February 2004; that part of the press release is wrong. Xu also performed more experiments for the 2005 paper in July 2004. If he did these in Taleyarkhan’s lab, then there is another error in the press release, one which weakens the level of independence.
Taleyarkhan contributed to this error in the press release, as he wrote in a July 7, 2005, e-mail to the news service.
“The overall Purdue initiative was initiated by Dr. Tsoukalas about two years ago,” Taleyarkhan wrote, “well before I joined Purdue, and [it] gained momentum early last year when a Ph.D. graduate [student] became available and was commissioned to undertake this work on a full-time basis for several months during interim period.”
According to a July 8, 2005, e-mail from Taleyarkhan to the press office, Taleyarkhan had also conferred with Purdue President Martin Jischke about the draft press release.
Even though there has never been any evidence that Xu did not perform the actual experiments independently, Taleyarkhan failed to consider both the suspicious appearance of his claim and the vindictiveness of his competitors.
Purdue had the Office of Naval Research and Congress on its back, both expecting results from the second investigation. They got them.
Despite the early efforts of Mason, the provost, to have her colleagues adhere to the university’s written policy and its ideals, Purdue ignored both on July 18, 2008, when it issued a press release saying that Taleyarkhan was found guilty of the two charges. It also published the full investigation report, knowing, as its Policy on Integrity in Research says, that “the mere suspicion or allegation of wrongdoing, even if totally unjustified, is potentially damaging to a person’s career.”
Taleyarkhan’s name was in the headlines again: “Guilty of Misconduct.”
After Taleyarkhan was given a chance to appeal, and his appeal was denied, Purdue issued sanctions against him on Aug 27, 2008, and issued another press release.
The new provost, Randy Woodson, was quoted in the press release: “‘I concur in the assessment of the Investigative Committee that ‘the effects of this matter on the students and post-doctoral fellows are especially deplorable. Mentors of young scientists need to exhibit the highest standard of ethical behavior and collegiality.'”
Purdue removed Taleyarkhan’s endowed professorship, reduced his salary, and limited his duties with students.
The following day, professor Iishi learned about testimonials written by Purdue staff, students and professors in support of Taleyarkhan published on New Energy Times. One of these testimonials, written by Darla Mize, administrative assistant to Tsoukalas, the head of the school, implicated Iishi in the school conflicts. After reading the statements online, Iishi made violent threats to Mize, police were called, and Mize was instructed by campus human relations staff to go home for her personal safety.
The police report summarized the state of affairs at the school.
“For quite some time, there has been internal turmoil in the School of Nuclear Engineering where individuals have accused one another of a wide assortment of unethical or immoral conduct,” the report said. “Within the past year, there were accusations of research fraud on the part of Professor Taleyarkhan which further divided the Nuclear Engineering Department.”
Mize never returned to the school. She remains employed by the University and works half-time due to stress-related health issues.
The government seemed satisfied. Tsoukalas was not.