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Professors Bicker Over Misconduct

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

Five years after the Persian Gulf War, a dispute over academic misconduct involving two MIT professors over issues of the effectiveness of the Patriot missile continues to fester.

The debate involves Professor of Science, Technology, and Society Theodore A. Postol '67, an authority on missiles, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Shaoul Ezekiel ScD '68, an authority on methods of measurement.

Postol's research disputes the U.S. Army's claim of the Patriot's 96 percent success rate during the Gulf War. Postol based his work on commercial television footage. The charge of misconduct stems from a video Ezekiel made criticizing the method Postol used to collect data for his work.

Ezekiel made "a short tutorial tape about how television works and whether or not it's suitable for observing high-speed events," Ezekiel said. The tape was shown as part of a presentation by the Raytheon Corporation, the Patriot's manufacturer, at a Congressional hearing in 1992.

"I don't think that commercial television is a good method of looking at high-speed events," he said. "You can't tell what was really happening."

But Postol said that the slow frame rate of the video was not relevant because "we're not looking for high-speed events." The frame rate in the footage used was sufficiently precise, Postol said.

In February 1994, a Raytheon executive wrote a letter to The Boston Globe discrediting "the group of self-appointed experts,' [who] rely on TV video footage (an approach repudiated by Professor Shaoul Ezekiel of MIT) to try to prove that the Patriot did not work - the MTV school of weapons analysis," according to the letter.

Postol was not explicitly mentioned in the letter, but he thought it was clear that the letter was referring to his work.

Postol wrote a letter to Ezekiel expressing his dissatisfaction at Ezekiel's refusal "to make a simple statement concerning Raytheon's apparently false statement that [Ezekiel has] repudiated [Postol's] work."

When Ezekiel did not make any such correction, Postol began the process of levying an allegation of academic misconduct against Ezekiel.

Misconduct Charges Dismissed

Vice President and Dean for Research and Dean for Graduate Education J. David Litster PhD '65 conducted a preliminary inquiry into the matter and issued a report to President Charles M. Vest in August concluding that "while Professor Ezekiel has chosen not to involve himself in the controversy in support of Professor Postol, he has done nothing that could be characterized as unethical."

"I now consider that the matter is closed and that neither you nor the Institute would be served by continuing to discuss it," Vest wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to Postol.

Postol was dissatisfied with the inquiry. Ezekiel "allowed Raytheon to make false statements about work he did not perform. Such act is simply active participation in fraud," Postol wrote to Vest the next day.

"Vest's responses to my queries have not addressed a single issue I have raised," Postol wrote in a letter to Chair of the Faculty Lawrence S. Bacow.

Bacow convened an independent faculty committee to look into Postol's allegation of academic misconduct. The group issued a report on Feb. 1 concluding that "Ezekiel committed no impropriety. His conduct clearly meets the high ethical standards of a faculty member engaged in scholarly debate."

While the report praised Postol's "service to the nation in documenting the ineffectiveness of the Patriot," it also criticized Postol's "certain recklessness in characterizing the behavior of a fellow member of the faculty."

Ezekiel wants the issue to end

"I'm not concerned with whether the missiles worked or not," Ezekiel said. "I just made that little clip, and I defend what I made."

Postol has been trying to "drag me into it as if I'm a partner with Raytheon, and we're the missile people." While Postol said that Ezekiel "had a contract relationship with the Raytheon company," Ezekiel said that he had no actual contract with Raytheon.

Postol said that during a visit to the Secretary of Energy's office in Washington D.C. last week, people were discussing the issue. "Everyone's talking about it. The incident has caught a lot of attention. People are quite disturbed," he said.

Articles about the issue have appeared recently in the Globe, The New York Times, and the journal Science.

Postol to continue work

Ezekiel said that he would like to see the matter come to an end. Postol "is making the issue of it," Ezekiel said.

But Postol said that he is still dissatisfied with how his complaint was dealt with. "I think it's been an extraordinary misuse of the concepts of debate and scholarship," Postol said. "I'm not happy with the situation."

Postol said that top administrative officials have tried to squelch his scholarship. Postol said that Provost Joel Moses PhD '67 told Postol in a conversation that Postol "was causing trouble with Raytheon," that MIT was losing money because of him, and that Postol should stop pursuing the issue.

Raytheon contributed $40,000 to MIT's Industrial Liaison's Program, Ezekiel said.

In a Feb. 24 article in the Times, Moses said that his talk with Postol was of a more good-humored nature.

Postol has not dropped the issue, and since the report last month he has continued to communicate with the parties involved about the matter in letters as recent as last week. There is still cause for concern over informed academic debate, which is the real issue involved, Postol said.

"If people were to want to have a forum" on related issues of academic debate, "I'd be pleased to do it," he said.

Bacow and Litster declined to comment because of a previous agreement not to speak with outside parties about the matter.