Academic Freedom or Scientific Misconduct?

An editorial by Mike Epstein, originally appearing in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol 8/1, 1994.

    Universities often tolerate all sorts of faculty member activity under the guise of academic freedom, but apparently they draw the line at alchemy. At least they do at Texas A&M, where distinguished professor of  chemistry, John Bockris, is under fire for reportedly accepting $200K and a guest researcher to carry out alchemical experiments which have been variously described as transmuting lesser metals into gold and silver (Begley, 1994), changing mercury into gold (UPI, 1993), or turning silver into gold (Pool, 1993). A petition signed by 23 of the 28 distinguished professors at Texas A&M called on the university provost to strip Dr. Bockris of his title as distinguished professor.  The petition follows a letter written by 11 full professors in the chemistry department (out of the department's 38 full professors) calling on Dr. Bockris to resign and remove the "shadow" he has cast over the department. The petition from the distinguished professors said "For a trained scientist to claim, or support anyone else's claim to have transmuted elements is difficult for us to believe and is no more acceptable than to claim to have invented a gravity shield, revived the dead or to be mining green cheese on the moon. We believe that Bockris' recent activities have made the terms 'Texas A&M' and 'Aggie' objects of derisive laughter throughout the world..."

    Dr. Bockris categorically denies any allegation of scientific misconduct. He has had a long and distinguished career in electrochemistry, authoring or editing 15 books and more than 600 papers. He also ardently supported the work of cold fusion researchers Pons and Fleischmann, and headed research teams at A&M that claimed to have reproduced the positive cold fusion results. Later, his fusion work (as well as that of others) was criticized by an internal review as a "breakdown of scientific objectivity."

    According to media sources, the alchemical experiment was directed by Joe Champion, a "self-described researcher and inventor from Tennessee", who instructed Bockris and his assistants in the proper procedures. In four separate experiments, they ignited a mixture of potassium nitrate, carbon, and various salts to produce small amounts of gold. However, once Champion left Bockris' group, they could not get the technique to work. Dr. Bockris has also expressed interest in "low-energy" nuclear reactions such as the production of heat and the formation of calcium from potassium during the electrolysis of light water on nickel, the formation of iron from carbon in an arc under water, and nuclear changes in biological organisms (Bockris, 1993), which has not likely endeared him to his colleagues.

    I do not agree with Dr. Bockris' theories, particularly those dealing with elemental transmutation by electrolysis or biological mechanisms.  Much, if not all can be explained by contamination and bad analytical chemistry (Epstein, 1994). However, I would remind those who seek his ouster or demotion that their actions threaten the core of academic freedom. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, but no one should be punished for attempting to provide that proof. (Note: Dr. Bockris was eventually found by a four-professor panel to be NOT GUILTY of violating Texas A&M standards in proposing, conducting or reporting controversial research.)


Begley, S., and Levin, S. (1994). All that glitters isn't chemistry, Newsweek, Jan 10.

Bockris, J. (1993). The chemical stimulation of nuclear change, NASA-Goddard Engineering Colloquium, Nov 1.

Epstein, M. (1993). Comments on Michel Bounias' letter to the editor, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 7, p. 446.

Pool, R. (1993). Alchemy altercation at Texas A&M, Science, 262, p. 1367.

UPI (1993). Top Texas A&M profs seek demotion of colleague over alchemy research, Dec 22.

Return to the Reference Page

Page prepared by: Mike Epstein
Last Modified: 30 April 1999