Correspondence with Editor of Nature concerning its article "concerns grow over secrecy of bubble-fusion inquiry"

In the absence of any response to my letter to the Editor of Nature, the essence of which is summarised below, an explicit request has now been made that the journal correct two specific serious errors in Reich's article.  In view of this issue being of significant interest to the scientific community, which considers Nature to be a reliable source of information, a copy of that subsequent letter has been posted elsewhere on these web pages.

On Aug. 23, 2006, Dr. Philip Campbell, Editor of Nature, wrote, in regard to my web page Nature on the Attack:

Dear Dr Josephson

I regret that travel abroad has delayed my responding to the message
forwarded to me by Sarah Greaves, sent by you on 2 August. I also wanted
to examine the position with respect to your recent website changes in
relation to Seth Putterman.

Contrary to your characterization, Nature has not attacked Professor
Taleyarkhan in our article of 20th July, nor have we taken a dislike to
anybody. We do not say that Seth Putterman believes that funds have been
misused, and neither do we say that *we* believe that.

We do give good reason for raising the question (which we describe as a
technicality, but an important one) whether particular funds were used
for these particular experiments

We have reported a matter of public interest including the reasons why
Seth Putterman holds the views that he does. We also report what we were
told in response via you, including a statement that Professor
Putterman's views about the funding are wrong. It is very regrettable
that Professor Taleyarkhan declined to talk to us himself. Contrary to
your accusation in your e-mail to Sarah Greaves, we have libelled

I believe that we have nothing to apologise for, and nothing to correct,
but if anyone writes to us pointing out what they believe to be specific
and substantive errors, I will certainly be willing to consider
publishing a correction. [only willing to consider? Does that mean that
under some circumstances a specific substantive error would be left to
stand uncorrected?]

You are welcome to post this on your website or circulate as you see

In my response I made the points summarised in the following (which should be read in conjunction with the original article), some additional comment being included:
  1. Nature's 'good reason' to raise the funding issue appears to be Putterman's argument given in the 'accusatory box' headed 'where did the money go'.  I have demonstrated that the argument is flawed, a fact that Campbell conveniently ignores: while the points listed in the box might suggest to a suspicious person that DARPA funds partly funded the 'PRL experiment', they do not any way prove this.  The likelihood that the whole rationale underlying bringing up the funding issue was invalid had been pointed out to the News Editor more than a week in advance of publication, but the journal went ahead and published regardless.
    Further, the inconclusive nature of Putterman's arguments means there is no reason why Taleyarkhan should have to produce documentation to defend himself, as the journal pressed him to do.
  2. Let us however assume for the sake of argument that Putterman was right.  He himself has said he does not think funding was misused, and that the only wrongdoing was the possibility that a source of funding was not acknowledged in the PRL article.  I have come across no one who thinks such failure would be the 'important' issue that Campbell insists it is.  This would mean that Nature had devoted two whole pages to a technicality generally considered of very little importance.
  3. I noted that Taleyarkhan may have had good reasons, such as the pressure on him noted in (1) above, to refrain from contact with the journal.
  4. The article asserts that Naranjo 'showed' that Taleyarkhan's neutrons come from a common laboratory source.  His 'proof' is given in a paper that has been posted on a preprint archive but has not as yet been approved for publication .  It is unusual (and misleading) to use the word 'showed' in this context. (Note added Sept. 11, 2006: Naranjo's paper has recently been approved for publication in Physical Review Letters.  It will be accompanied by an experimental paper by Taleyarkhan that casts serious doubt upon its conclusions.   Further evidence against the Cf-252 contamination hypothesis is provided by a replication, submitted for publication, by a research group from a different laboratory.)
  5. In regard to the question of whether the article constitutes an attack or not, the reader may find it instructive to compare Nature's Concerns grow over secrecy of bubble-fusion inquiry with IEEE Spectrum's Bubble fusion research under scrutiny, dealing with similar subject matter.  For example, IEEE Spectrum talks of Naranjo having 'analysed the experiment' and 'concluded' something, a more neutral description than Nature's 'showed'.  Consider, again, the suggestive heading: "Where did the money go?", used for Nature's accusatory box.
    Finally, for the purposes of this section (I included more examples in the letter itself), there is the paragraph below, from the article, which follows a description of Taleyarkhan's defence to the various allegations listed.  It demonstrates the adroit use of rhetorical technique (use of the word 'may', invocation of expertise) to hint at something negative:
Taleyarkhan’s explanation may make little difference if the case is investigated. “If any part of salary is allocated to a grant awarded by a federal agency, then federal funding is involved,” says Mark Frankel, director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law programme at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. Nature has confirmed this general interpretation with an investigator at a federal funding agency.
Yes. it may make little difference. On the other hand, perhaps it does make a difference: perhaps it even tells us where Putterman went wrong.

What a useful word, indeed, is that word 'may'! In any event, inspired by the above (with apologies to Dr. Reich), I composed a paragraph using equivalent rhetorical techniques to hint at possible wrongdoing by the author of the Nature article; for good measure, I have thrown in reference to a hypothetical accusatory box:

Not far from the country village where Eugenie Reich, a reporter for Nature journal, has been holidaying, a so far unexplained death occurred last week.  Dr. Reich is well known for the aggressive tone of her articles in Nature, and may have been the person responsible; two independent experts consulted by us have confirmed that it is very often the most aggressive people who commit murders.  For further background, see the box 'where was Dr. Reich on the night of the death?'.

I should imagine, on the available evidence, that Nature, if called upon to defend an article containing the above paragraph, might reply along the following lines:

 'unexplained death is a matter of considerable public interest, and we have given a reason, supported by experts, for suggesting a certain possibility in this connection.  We mentioned in our article Dr. Reich's denial of any wrongdoing.  We have not stated anywhere that Dr. Reich was responsible, nor that we believe that she was or could have been; we have merely reported our informant's beliefs.  If you can point to any error in our article (which we believe to be error-free), we will consider publishing a correction'.

Brian Josephson
September 5th, 2006.