Bell Labs man guilty of fraud

September 27, 2002

A young physicist forged research results on at least 16 occasions, according to an independent inquiry at Bell Labs in the US.

Jan Hendrik Schön was named as the sole perpetrator of the worst research fraud scandal to hit physics in living memory.

The five-strong inquiry group declared on Wednesday that it had found misconduct in 16 of 24 cases referred to it. Six other cases were regarded as "worrying".

In a report published on Wednesday, the committee stated: "The evidence that manipulation and misrepresentation of data occurred is compelling."

The four-month probe, called by Bell Labs management, followed a remarkable body of work published between 1998 and 2001 by Dr Schön.

This groundbreaking research included the fabrication of a field effect transistor from a single organic molecule, the first plastic superconductor and an organic laser. Some scientists felt a Nobel prize was a foregone conclusion.

But a few scientists at Bell Labs became suspicious and, with the help of outside colleagues, raised the alarm.

The inquiry, headed by Malcolm Beasley, professor of applied physics at Stanford University, found that despite the involvement of 19 co-authors, Dr Schön fabricated all the devices, made the physical measurements and process the data.

It noted that he had shown "reckless disregard for the sanctity of data" while there was "clear, unambiguous" evidence of scientific misconduct.

Dr Schön said he disagreed with many of the committee's findings but he apologised to his co-authors and the scientific community for his "errors".

Nevertheless, he insisted he had observed the various physical effects he reported in his papers.

"Although I have made mistakes, I never wanted to mislead or misuse anybody's trust," he said. "I realise there is a lack of credibility in light of these mistakes, nevertheless, I truly believe the reported scientific effects are real, exciting and worth working for."

Bell Labs has terminated Dr Schön's employment as a result of the findings.

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