Academic Freedom or Scientific
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.
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Page prepared by: Mike Epstein
Last Modified: 30 April 1999