NSF Funds Researcher Who Was Sanctioned for Misconduct

Sep 25 2008 Published by under Conduct of Science, Ethics

Can this possibly be true? Nature reports

Days after being sanctioned for research misconduct, bubble-fusion researcher Rusi Taleyarkhan was back in business -- with a $185,000 grant from the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

More on the Taleyarkhan mess from writedit, Janet Stemwedel and Uncertain Chad.
Words fail.

14 responses so far

  • juniorprof says:

    Crazy! But I know all is well with the world because there is a misconduct article on Nature network somewhere and Shi Liu already showed up to offer his/her comments (Shi Liu is the famous censored commenter from the Linda Buck retraction story, of course). Too bad good old Shi doesn't come around here, Shi and Sol could make quite a pair.

  • Odyssey says:

    What I find disturbing is the program manager's claim that he wasn't aware Taleyarkhan had been sanctioned for misconduct. It's been all over the science media, how could he not have known? I guess Taleyarkhan is one of those really common names...

  • This is crap. Total, total crap.
    Dr. Isis wrote about this topic here. I hope that guy rots.

  • writedit says:

    The burden is not on federal sponsors to know every misbehaving child out there, though ORI helps with this to a limited extent for PHS funding agencies. Purdue failed to notify their office of sponsored programs (or equivalent), which accepted the NSF award. If sponsored programs had known Taleyarkhan was banned from working with graduate students, they would have known the University could not comply with the conditions of the award and would not have accepted it. With such notification, this office (or whomever is the signing institutional official at Purdue) would also then refuse to sign off on Taleyarkhan's outgoing applications that propose work in conflict with the terms of his sanctions.

  • Od says:

    Writedit wrote:
    The burden is not on federal sponsors to know every misbehaving child out there, though ORI helps with this to a limited extent for PHS funding agencies.
    While in principle I agree, what I don't understand is how a manager overseeing a program in Taleyarkhan's field, with a limited stable of funded PI's to watch over, could be oblivious to Taleyarkhan's misconduct. I knew about it and Taleyarkhan is in a field far removed from mine. Surely it's the responsibility of a program manager to keep track of the major events in his/her area of oversight.

  • Odyssey says:

    Hmmmm, somehow my pseudonym in comment #5 got shortened... Must have been typing too quickly.

  • Dm says:

    shorter Od: program doesn't read blogs? WTF!!????

  • BP says:

    I thought the same as Odyssey at first
    "While in principle I agree, what I don't understand is how a manager overseeing a program in Taleyarkhan's field, with a limited stable of funded PI's to watch over, could be oblivious to Taleyarkhan's misconduct. I knew about it and Taleyarkhan is in a field far removed from mine. Surely it's the responsibility of a program manager to keep track of the major events in his/her area of oversight."
    but then I went to the NSF's award search (http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/). This is Taleyarkhan's first NSF award. The Division he was awarded under is Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems, where a Program Manager wouldn't be expected to keep up with the fusion literature.
    (Although, I remember reading the 2002 sonofusion paper because it was so novel and cool, despite it being far outside my field. )
    I can't imagine how Purdue "forgot" to tell the NSF though.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    writedit, with your focus on the rules of the award and whether or not they could "comply" with the terms....this begs the larger question.
    When a scientist gets nailed with a substantive violation of scientific ethics, how do we respond? With technical legalisms and parsing similar to the political and financial worlds? Or are we better than that?
    Should the violators be essentially driven out of science/academics? Or at least suspended from science/academics in some very real way? or should they simply be larded up with more grant money after a minor public humiliation (as happened in my field)?

  • CC says:

    When a scientist gets nailed with a substantive violation of scientific ethics, how do we respond? With technical legalisms and parsing similar to the political and financial worlds? Or are we better than that?
    I think that writedit and BP are together addressing the "WTF?" nature of the situation. The program officer and reviewers are in an unrelated field and didn't know who this guy is (which is odd also, since we all do, but that aside) and it's Purdue's fault that the grant didn't get stopped on the ethical side after passing on the scientific side.
    I don't think anyone is saying that Taleyarkhan should continue to receive funding.

  • PhysioProf says:

    or should they simply be larded up with more grant money after a minor public humiliation (as happened in my field)?

    You talking about the MDMA fiasco?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yes, the Ricaurte affair, although since not everyone knows the details let me make sure to point out that there was no formal finding of fault in that case. So the issues are more subtle in the cases of maybe/maybe not misconduct.
    Still, there were a lot of people spending a great deal of effort based on the apparently novel finding in the ~9-12 mo after the PI knew the effect wasn't replicating and didn't bother to tell anyone. This affair made a serious detrimental impact on the public perception of the reliability of this area of science and, I would argue was critical in allowing clinical trials to finally gain IRB approval.

  • writedit says:

    The sponsor concerned with misconduct committed with its funding, ONR, was well aware of the case and approved the actions taken at Purdue. The University really has no obligation and in fact ethically should not tell every other potential sponsor of Taleyarkhan's research about what happened. What would they say? That he has a history of making up data so don't fund him?
    Purdue only needs to make sure Taleyarkhan does not request or receive funding that closely involves graduate students, as far as I can tell. They can do that internally by monitoring his grant applications submitted and awards offered (in deciding whether they can be accepted). He's not banned from conducting research according to publicly available details (looking at DM's comment in #9). He just can't use Purdue or ONR funds for this purpose any longer.
    In the NSF case, the program officer should check to see if any of Taleyarkhan's questionable data were used to justify his request. If so, they would have grounds to revoke the award. If not, then again, responsibility falls back on Purdue not to accept an award if the PI cannot comply with its terms (ie, signficant grad student involvement). If no bad data were used and if no students will be involved, the award would likely be allowable.
    This is not a situation in which ORI bans the misconductor from requesting or receiving PHS funding for a set number of years (or a lifetime in Eric Poehlman's case). Should there be an ORI equivalent to make such rulings across non-PHS funding agencies? Perhaps.
    Actually, with Taleyarkhan, a Congressional committee was involved and in fact motivated Purdue to take another looksee at the case, so perhaps we'll have politicos jump back into the fray now. Oh joy.
    And getting back to the broader issues raised in DM's comment in #9, the recent policy forum contribution by Redman & Mertz in Science on what happened to scientists cited by ORI as having engaged in scientific misconduct indicates at least some go on to maintain productive academic research careers, no doubt wiser and more vigilant. Now, whether folks like Taleyarkhan or Hellinga could be expected to learn from a citation of misconduct is open for debate.

  • Arlenna says:

    I'm really surprised the sponsored programs office at Purdue didn't notice the connection. Or maybe they did and there are a complicated set of reasons why the "wait and see" approach was taken. I've got a front-row seat for watching the outcome of this and finding out what happened when and why. I'll let folks know any public info that I come across.

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