Top journals tarnished in fallout from alleged physics fraud

July 12, 2002

The role of academic journals Nature and Science in an alleged research fraud scandal at Bell Labs in the US has been criticised by scientists.

Suspicions surrounding ground-breaking work in nanotechnology by 31-year-old Jan Hendrik Schön have rocked the physics world. An independent team of scientists has been called in to investigate.

Nobel laureates Philip Anderson and Robert Laughlin, both former employees at Bell, said this week that if the investigators conclude that fraud has taken place, the two journals, which carried 15 of Dr Schön's papers, should share the blame. They felt that Nature and Science had been too eager to publish him.

Anderson, emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, said:

"Everyone I've talked to implicated to a great extent the journals and in particular Science and Nature ."

His sentiments were echoed by Laughlin, professor of physics at Stanford University. "They have no one to blame but themselves," he said.

Karl Ziemelis, Nature 's physical sciences editor, said Nature was an obvious scapegoat. He insisted that all of Dr Schön's papers handled by the journal had been subjected to rigorous peer review.

"Journals set themselves up as a prominent target," he said.

Donald Kennedy, editor of Science , said: "There is little journals can do about detecting research misconduct."

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