Purdue Exonerates Dr. Taleyarkhan — (Update: Then Reverses Decision 8/08)

8th February 200710:01 am

February 08, 2007

Just hours after I posted this, Purdue finally announced the results of its investigation into this matter, exonerating Dr. Taleyarkhan.

On a related note, as a journalist who has covered this controversial topic I feel a personal debt of gratitude to Science magazine editor Donald Kennedy, who recently backed up my claim (made here and here) that, in this case, big money and old paradigms are poisoning the atmosphere of free and open inquiry on which science depends. Here is what Dr. Kennedy recently told the BBC:

“Fusion research is a heavily contested field, both because there are reputations to be made and because the amount of federal dollars spent on it is quite large and people want their share of that research support. So don’t ever expect this to be a peaceful domain in science, it’s not going to be.”

Boy, he sure got that right.

That’s all the more reason for scrutiny from the press — which has virtually ignored this long-running story despite the enormous stakes. Without such scrutiny we have no way of knowing whether the billions of taxpayer dollars we are spending on fusion research are being flushed down a group-think drain. After all, it has always seemed pretty darn strange to me that we are still getting most of our energy using the same highly profitable but centrally controlled, polluting, fossil fuel technologies that were in use 100 years ago — when everything else around us has changed so dramatically.

So, the question now is the same one I first asked nearly two decades ago in my initial coverage of this subject: are big money and old paradigms stopping new energy science dead in its tracks — or holding it back? That’s a question I’d be asking again today if I were in charge of a major news desk. But then, the big news outlets, many of which depend heavily on advertising from the oil industry, have so many more important stories to cover, like whether or not Britney Spears is wearing underpants.

Addendum as of August, 2008: A second Purdue University panel of inquiry ruled against Taleyarkhan earlier this month. I continue to find his story astonishing. If the events did unfold the way Purdue officials now report, then why on earth did it take them so long to discover the facts and make them public? This has the makings of one heck of a screenplay…

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