Bell Labs physicist fired for misconduct
Sep 25, 2002
A physicist at Bell Labs has been sacked for falsifying and fabricating data in a series of high-profile papers on superconductivity and molecular electronics. Jan Hendrik Schön was fired today after an investigation committee found him guilty of "scientific misconduct" on 16 out of 24 charges. All of his co-authors, who had contributed to the experiments and appeared on several of the papers, have been cleared of any misconduct.
Schön was first suspected of scientific misconduct earlier this year when physicists noticed similarities between the graphs in two papers published in Science and one published in Nature. When further suspicious similarities between other papers came to light, the owners of Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies, set up a high-profile committee to investigate if the data had been fabricated. The committee, which was chaired by Malcolm Beasley of Stanford University, questioned Schön as well as his three principal co-authors - Zhenan Bao, Bertram Batlogg and Christian Kloc.
The committee has found that Schön - who made all of the devices and carried out all of the measurements and data-processing himself - showed "reckless disregard for the sanctity of data in science". According to the committee, Schön substituted whole data sets to represent different materials or devices. He also substituted data curves -- and even parts of curves - in multiple figures that supposedly represented different materials and devices. It found that he had failed to maintain proper lab records and had deleted all of the original, raw electronic data files, claiming that his old computer did not have enough memory. "Such practices are completely unacceptable and represent scientific misconduct," says the committee.
Although Schön disagrees with the committee's conclusions, he admits that he made mistakes, which he "deeply regrets". However, he insists that all of his publications were based on experimental observations. "I am convinced that they are real," he says in an appendix to the report. "I have observed experimentally the various physical efforts reported in these publications, such as the quantum Hall effect, superconductivity in various materials, lasing, or gate-modulation in self-assembled monolayers."
Schön's co-authors, however, have all been found not guilty by the committee of any charges of misconduct. But it declined to comment on whether they had acted in a professionally responsible manner, concluding that "in one case questions remain that the committee felt unqualified to resolve, given the absence of a broader consensus on the nature of the participants in collaborative research endeavours."
About the author
Matin Durrani is deputy editor of Physics World