Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger
  Copy of the Product Forum at Amazon on  July 9, 2006 8:00 PDT   Imaginary Weapons, concocted from malicious hearsay
Unable to understand how this book could be printed when it contained so many narratives that were not true, I initiated a dialog with Sharon Weinberger, author of Imaginary Weapons. I wanted to focus upon a single event for which the facts were well established and try to discover what led to publication of the distorted account offered in the book.



Fact or Fiction
A discussion in this product's forum

Doina B. Collins

Initial post

Blogs and reviews say this book is fiction concocted from interviews with sources that have no credibility or corroboration.

Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger is nominally a 300 page book. It is a pastiche of about 5% content from her credible publication of 2004 in the Washington Post and 95% of additional material that is being described as fiction and has not been corroborated.

It is easy to find many gross errors in the book, such as locating the Yucca Mtn. nuclear waste site in Colorado when a minute on Google would have shown it to be in Nevada - just where everyone would have guessed; and such as identifying one of the most senior referees of the confirmation experiment known as TRIP as John Nuckles instead of John Nuckolls. The committed apologists have already rushed to claim that even such grotesque errors do not degrade the message, but, unhappily for her, reviews, blogs, and published material seem to contradict the very substance of what Ms. Weinberger has written in the new 95% of her book. It begins to look like another Jayson Blair tragedy in the making.

Here I would like to raise a specific incident described by Sharon Weinberger and ask her or anyone else to tell how the facts, available since 2003, can be reconciled with the description she published in 2006. Pages 48 and 49 are reproduced at 

together with comments by Carl about what really happened. The matter is particularly important because it deals with the first measurement of the unexpectedly large yields of gamma rays from triggering Hafnium isomeric nuclei in a traditional nuclear physics experiment conducted for the first time ever with a Hafnium isomer target. The experiment was designed in 1994 by four scientists, Carl, J.J. Carroll, S. Karamian and Yu. Ts. Oganessian. They were not colleagues prior to that time. The resulting US-Russian proposal was reviewed for merit at the 1995 NATO-Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) held at Predeal and was accepted as worthy of support. With that endorsement, a prestigious team of experimentalists at Orsay, France invited the proponents to join in a collaborative test of the proposal in March, 1996. The results were shocking and surpassed accepted upper limits for such reactions as described in the substantial documentation to which links appear at the internet URL listed above.

However, as printed on pages 48 and 49 of Imaginary Weapons, Sharon Weinberger describes the physical appearance of the distinguished French host scientist, (whom she had never met), with a very mean-spirited and completely unfair insult, denies that Carl was even at the experiment, and slanders him by saying he stole the data.

I am hoping this will focus attention upon at least one incident in Imaginary Weapons as a test case of the credibility of what Sharon Weinberger has written for us. Did Sharon Weinberger just swallow malicious hearsay without any effort to check the facts, or just fantasized how she wished it had happened: just "made it up?"

Jul 7, 2006 8:40 AM PDT

9 of 9 people think this post adds to the discussion.


  Perhaps unaware that it was her writing that was being perceived as fiction, she simply said her idea came in e-mail messages from unidentified sources. No corroboration or investigations of the sources had been attempted.   
Sharon Weinberger
In reply to an earlier post

In a series of emails to scientific colleagues (and as quoted in the book), the French scientist you mention complained repeatedly that her data had been taken without her permission, and was being presented in the United States in ways that she felt was inappropriate. She particularly singled members of the PRL hafnium collaboration, saying "nobody from this company had access to the data and this person was never in the collaboration I am coordinating."

For all I know this scientist could be a lovely woman, and it would not surprise me. She is certainly a well-respected scientist. Her colleagues, who came up with this description (not me), were merely pointing out that she was not one to be messed with. I by no means wanted to insult her.

If members of the Texas team feel they were in fact part of the Orsay collaboration, then it is up to them to explain why those at Orsay would deny this. What I did in the book was quite clearly explain why she was angered--she felt her data had been taken without her permission. It seems your issue should be with her, not me. My question is: why would she deny her own results, and deny others' participation?


Jul 7, 2006 9:16 AM PDT

0 of 5 people think this post adds to the discussion.


Eyewitness testimony from perfectly credible witness. Further corroboration could be obtained from any other eyewitnesses present at the time.    
Doina B. Collins
In reply to an earlier post

So, there is no corroboration of this event. Score one for fiction.

You wrote on the basis of third-hand hearsay from "unnamed sources" without investigating. "The collaboration I am coordinating," had nothing to do with the Hf-isomer triggering experiment. That first successful triggering experiment was coordinated by Yuri Oganessian, the senior partner. That is fact.

I was there during the experiment and personally saw Carl, Sarkis Karamian, Chantal Briancon, Calin Ur, and a number of French participants and students working day and night at the accelerator during this experiment.

You present no quote from Chantal about theft of data, and again rely upon third-party hearsay for which you do not bring corroboration. Yet in your index you have an entry under "Collins, Carl - theft of data." That is slander because it is not true.

The term "investigative reporter" implies investigation. How can you bear to say "For all I know...." about a scientist whom you chose to insult on the basis of only third-hand hearsay?

Score one for fiction.


Jul 7, 2006 10:26 AM PDT

4 of 4 people think this post adds to the discussion.


  Very late to be carping about details and raising questions that should have been investigated and resolved before printing the book.  
Sharon Weinberger
In reply to an earlier post

Where's the data? Why were there only screen captures, and not original data? Why wasn't it made available to the Texas team? I've heard several versions of the events, and yet the only thing people seem to agree on is that the original data did not belong to the Texas team. That is the issue, isn't it?


Jul 7, 2006 11:27 AM PDT

0 of 10 people think this post adds to the discussion.


Restating the issue of concern about the credibility of the book.    
Doina B. Collins
In reply to an earlier post

No, that's not the issue. The issue is your publication of third-hand hearsay from unnamed sources without investigating them. The Folks who write for the tabloids do the same thing, but you claim to be an investigative reporter. Now, we learn that in this case your hearsay came in conflicting versions with scant agreement between them. Did you toss a coin to decide which one to publish? Anyway, all such questions that seem so urgent now should have been asked, investigated, and settled before publishing what can only be termed fiction without corroboration. It is too late for you to ask questions after you have printed the book.

At least we seem to have resolved who actually did the Orsay experiment: Carl, Ur, Karamian, Briancon, and a talented group of French scientists. There is one more of your errors settled.

There remains no corroboration of the event on pages 48 and 49, as you printed it.


Jul 7, 2006 1:40 PM PDT

5 of 5 people think this post adds to the discussion.


  Incredible evasion !!!

No credible source identified.

Sharon Weinberger
In reply to an earlier post

Wait, I don't think you've answered this really fundamental question. To whom does the Orsay data belong? Multiple source interviews say that the data did not belong to the Texas team.


Jul 7, 2006 2:52 PM PDT

0 of 3 people think this post adds to the discussion.


Refocusing again upon the issue of the credibility of the book.    
Doina B. Collins
In reply to an earlier post

No, you are wrong. Your question was answered when we established that I personally witnessed the experiment being done by four equal principals, Carl, Calin Ur, Sarkis Karamian, and Chantal Briancon. The fifth principal and coordinator, Yuri Oganessian because of heavy leadership responsibilities at Dubna, could not be present, but nevertheless remained an equal. I knew him from meetings in Dubna and Texas and he unquestionably deserved the distinction.

Those who did the work owned the data.

See how it works? Witness first-hand testimony and the courtesy of answers you do not deserve from principals in the action resolve the uncertainty. Evasion by statements like "multiple source interviews" (little birds told you) means you either made up what you published on pages 48 and 49 or you were gulled by your sources whom you did not investigate.


Jul 7, 2006 5:30 PM PDT

1 of 1 people think this post adds to the discussion.


Sharon Weinberger
In reply to an earlier post

Try as I might to find a published paper that supports your version of events, alas, I cannot. Nor can I "retract" statements made by several other scientists. The dispute over ownership--as described in the book--is described fairly. If there is updated information, I will certainly include that in future editions of the book.


Jul 8, 2006 11:02 AM PDT

Are we experiencing a new genre of "investigative reporting?"

Simply make up a lot of damaging and hurtful material about obscure people, publish the resulting fiction, and then collect responses to edit into a second edition.

In this edition, the book is in the first stage of random fantasy attributed to secret communicants with no corroboration.


Doina B. Collins
In reply to an earlier post

"Evidence for K mixing in 178Hf" by C.B. Collins, J.J. Carroll, Yu.Ts. Oganessian, and S.A. Karamian, Hyperfine Int. 107 (1997) 141-147.

Systematics for the appearance of K-mixing levels for the pumping or spontaneous decay of multi-quasiparticle isomers in Hf isotopes are detailed in this letter. The possible location of such a level in the nuclide 178Hf is discussed and an experiment is proposed to investigate its existence.

This is the document you say you could not find.

You are not negotiating this conflict of statements with me in good faith. I have spent considerable time and patience trying to educate you on matters of corroboration, evidence, and testimony from witnesses. I tried to help you understand that you had written incorrectly and I answered all your questions even though you had no right to ask them because it was too late. In return you evaded all my questions. Moreover, you have produced no evidence or documents or testimony supporting anything you wrote on pages 48 and 49. There is no evidence that you obtained even third hand hearsay from anybody. And now, after discussing it so extensively, you go back to your original unsubstantiated position.

I am wasting no more time on you. You will discover that printing third hand hearsay from unidentified individuals and then being unable to corroborate any part of it will not make your book credible.


Jul 8, 2006 7:23 PM PDT