Letter requesting correction of inaccuracies in Nature article

Dr. Philip Campbell,
Editor, Nature Journal,
Sept. 10th., 2006.

Dear Dr. Campbell,

    I do not appear to have had any response from you to my letter of Aug. 29th. where I gave a rebuttal of essentially all of the points made in your letter of Aug. 23rd.  I am not particularly surprised at this non-response, since there is little that anyone could say in answer to my arguments.

    Under the circumstances, I should like instead to take you up on your offer to address any 'specific and substantive errors' in Reich's article.  Here are two such:

1) The article speaks of "an analysis by ... Brian Naranjo, showing that the neutrons described in Taleyarkhan's latest paper ... came not from fusion as claimed but from the radioactive decay of standard lab material."

According to the dictionary, to 'show', in such a context, means to "prove: establish the validity of something".  Naranjo's analysis is based upon assumptions that have been challenged by Taleyarkhan; see the May 2006 issue of IEEE Spectrum, on line at http://spectrum.ieee.org/may06/3428, for details.  A paper by Taleyarkhan and his collaborators that has been accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters, a copy of which I attach here for your convenience, reporting that deliberate addition of Cf-252 produces a different spectrum, provides strong evidence that Naranjo's conclusions are invalid. Additional evidence against the contamination hypothesis has been provided by a replication of the PRL experiment, submitted for publication, by a research group from a different laboratory.

Reich was manifestly in error, for a number of reasons, to assert that Naranjo had shown that the neutrons did not came from fusion.   This false attribution, given its almost certainly incorrect implication that Taleyarkhan's PRL experiment was in error, has to be classed as a substantive one in need of correction.

[It may be worth noting also that non-sphericity of bubbles, as in the example below, provides a likely explanation for the failure of some groups to replicate the Taleyarkhan claims.  Claims of non-replicability need to be treated with considerable caution.]

aspherical bubble

2) You say, quite correctly, that the article does not say that funds have been misused.  On any normal reading of the article, however, that conclusion is implied, as I shall now demonstrate:

(i) You say that Putterman 'believes' [that DARPA funds were applied to the PRL experiment].  Reich links this belief, in the paragraph that immediately follows, with 'misuse of federal dollars'.

(ii) You list in detail the accounting information that led him to conclude this.  Since accounting information is normally accurate, the average reader would take it that Putterman's conclusion based on this information and linked by you, as noted, to 'misuse of federal dollars', was correct.  That is the apparent implication of the article, whether or not you stated it explicitly.

(iii) You have, it is true, included the "statement [by Taleyarkhan] that Professor Putterman's views about the funding are wrong".  But given the apparent strength of Putterman's case, that statement would cut little ice, being the kind of statement that a guilty person would make in any case.  Worse, it would tend to imply not only that Taleyarkhan used the funds in the way indicated by Putterman, but also that he lied in denying that.

(iv) These impressions given by the article are in fact incorrect, since Putterman's argument is faulty for the reasons I have indicated.  There is no reason to accept what Putterman claims to be the case.

Nature has impugned the reputation of a physicist who has made an important discovery and who I have reason to believe has higher standards than many of Nature's staff.  I trust you will now take action directed at correcting these misimpressions.

In the belief that the question of Nature's behaviour in regard to Taleyarkhan is a matter of public interest, I am posting this letter on my web pages, with links to it as appropriate elsewhere.  An parallel critique is being prepared by the maintainer of the newenergytimes.com web site.

Yours sincerely,

    Brian Josephson

The Editor's response was

I am afraid that I do not agree that either of the points you raise amount to factual errors in what we published. Therefore I do not agree that they require Nature to issue a correction.

In reply, I asked if the opinions of people unconnected with Nature had been consulted at all.  I also raised the question of whether the article was consistent with advisory journalistic ethics, such as the recommendation from an Ethics Code that journalists 'should make certain that headlines ... do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context", an issue of particular relevance in regard to the box-heading "Where did the money go?", which in isolation has connotations of fraud.