Schön scandal

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The Schön scandal concerns German physicist Jan Hendrik Schön (born August 1970 in Verden an der Aller, Lower Saxony, Germany) who briefly rose to prominence after a series of apparent breakthroughs with semiconductors that were later discovered to be fraudulent.[1] Before he was exposed, Schön had received the Otto-Klung-Weberbank Prize for Physics and the Braunschweig Prize in 2001 as well as the Outstanding Young Investigator Award of the Materials Research Society in 2002, which was later rescinded.

The scandal provoked discussion in the scientific community about the degree of responsibility of coauthors and reviewers of scientific papers. The debate centered on whether peer review, traditionally designed to find errors and determine relevance and originality of papers, should also be required to detect deliberate fraud.

Rise to prominence[edit]

Schön's field of research was condensed matter physics and nanotechnology.[2] He received his Ph.D. from the University of Konstanz in 1997. In late 1997 he was hired by Bell Labs, located in New Jersey, USA. There, he worked on electronics in which conventional semiconducting elements (such as silicon) were replaced by crystalline organic materials. Specific organic materials can conduct electrical currents, and in a so-called field-effect transistor (a refined implementation of the transistor effect, which was pioneered in 1947 in the same laboratory) the conductance can be switched on or off, a basic function in the field of electronics. Schön, however, claimed spectacular on/off behavior, far beyond anything achieved thus far with organic materials. His measurements in most cases confirmed various theoretical predictions, for example that the organic materials could be made to display superconductivity or be used in lasers. The findings were published in prominent scientific publications, including the journals Science and Nature, and gained worldwide attention. However, no research group anywhere in the world succeeded in reproducing the results claimed by Schön.[3]

In 2001 he was listed as an author on an average of one newly published research paper every eight days.[2] In that year he announced in Nature that he had produced a transistor on the molecular scale. Schön claimed to have used a thin layer of organic dye molecules to assemble an electric circuit that, when acted on by an electric current, behaved as a transistor. The implications of his work were significant. It would have been the beginning of a move away from silicon-based electronics and towards organic electronics. It would have allowed chips to continue shrinking past the point at which silicon breaks down, and therefore continue Moore's Law for much longer than is currently predicted. It also would have drastically reduced the cost of electronics.

A key element in Schön's claimed successful observation of various physical phenomena in organic materials was in the transistor setup, specifically, a thin layer of aluminium oxide which Schön incorporated in the transistors using lab-facilities of the University of Konstanz in Germany. Although the equipment and materials used were commonly used by laboratories all over the world, no one succeeded in preparing aluminium oxide layers of similar quality as claimed by Schön.[3]

Allegations and investigation[edit]

As recounted by Dan Agin in his book Junk Science, soon after Schön published his work on single-molecule semiconductors, others in the physics community alleged that his data contained anomalies. Lydia Sohn, then of Princeton University, noticed that two experiments carried out at very different temperatures had identical noise.[2] When the editors of Nature pointed this out to Schön, he claimed to have accidentally submitted the same graph twice. Paul McEuen of Cornell University then found the same noise in a paper describing a third experiment. More research by McEuen, Sohn, and other physicists uncovered a number of examples of duplicate data in Schön's work. This triggered a series of reactions that quickly led Lucent Technologies (which ran Bell Labs) to start a formal investigation.[4]

In May 2002, Bell Labs set up a committee to investigate with Malcolm Beasley of Stanford University as chair.[5] The committee obtained information from all of Schön's coauthors, and interviewed the three principal ones (Zhenan Bao, Bertram Batlogg and Christian Kloc).[6] It examined electronic drafts of the disputed papers which included processed numeric data. The committee requested copies of the raw data but found that Schön had kept no laboratory notebooks. His raw-data files had been erased from his computer. According to Schön the files were erased because his computer had limited hard drive space. In addition, all of his experimental samples had been discarded, or damaged beyond repair.[2][5]

On September 25, 2002, the committee publicly released its report.[5] The report contained details of 24 allegations of misconduct. They found evidence of Schön's scientific misconduct in at least 16 of them. They found that whole data sets had been reused in a number of different experiments. They also found that some of his graphs, which purportedly had been plotted from experimental data, had instead been produced using mathematical functions.[5]

The report found that all of the misdeeds had been performed by Schön alone. All of the coauthors (including Bertram Batlogg who was the head of the team) were exonerated of scientific misconduct. This sparked widespread debate[7] in the scientific community on how the blame for misconduct should be shared among co-authors, particularly when they share significant part of the credit.[5]

Aftermath and sanctions[edit]

Schön acknowledged that the data were incorrect in many of these papers.[5] He claimed that the substitutions could have occurred by honest mistake. He admitted to having falsified some data and stated he did so to show more convincing evidence for behaviour that he observed.

Experimenters at Delft University of Technology and the Thomas J. Watson Research Center have since performed experiments similar to Schön's. They did not obtain similar results.[2] Even before the allegations had become public, several research groups had tried to reproduce most of his spectacular results in the field of the physics of organic molecular materials without success.[4][8]

Schön returned to Germany and took a job at an engineering firm.[8] In June 2004 the University of Konstanz issued a press release stating that Schön's doctoral degree had been revoked due to "dishonourable conduct". Department of Physics spokesman Wolfgang Dieterich called the affair the "biggest fraud in physics in the last 50 years" and said that the "credibility of science had been brought into disrepute".[9] Schön appealed the ruling, but on October 28, 2009 it was upheld by the University.[10] In response, Schön sued the University, and appeared in court to testify on September 23, 2010. The court overturned the University's decision on September 27, 2010. However, in November 2010 the University moved to appeal the court's ruling.[11] The state court ruled in September 2011 that the university was correct in revoking his doctorate.[12] The Federal Administrative Court upheld the state court's decision on 31 July 2013,[13] and the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed it on September 3, 2014.[14]

In October 2004, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, the German Research Foundation) Joint Committee announced sanctions against him. The former DFG post-doctorate fellow was deprived of his active right to vote in DFG elections or serve on DFG committees for an eight-year period. During that period, Schön will also be unable to serve as a peer reviewer or apply for DFG funds.[15]

Withdrawn journal papers[edit]

On October 31, 2002, Science withdrew eight papers written by Schön:[16]

On December 20, 2002, Physical Review withdrew six papers written by Schön:[17][18]

On February 24, 2003, Applied Physics Letters withdrew four papers written by Schön:[19][20][21][22]

On May 2, 2003, Science withdrew another paper written by Schön:[23]

  • J. H. Schön, M. Dorget, F. C. Beuran, X. Z. Xu, E. Arushanov, M. Laguës, C. Deville Cavellin (2001). "Field-Induced Superconductivity in a Spin-Ladder Cuprate". Science 293 (5539): 2430. Bibcode:2001Sci...293.2430S. doi:10.1126/science.1064204.  (Retracted)

On March 20, 2003, Advanced Materials withdrew two papers written by Schön:[24]

On March 5, 2003, Nature withdrew seven papers written by Schön:[25]

Further questionable journal articles[edit]

The retraction notices from February 24, 2003 in Applied Physics Letters relayed concerns about seven papers written by Schön and published in the Applied Physics Letters:[19][20][21][22]

The retraction notice from March 20, 2003 in Advanced Materials mentions concerns about another paper written by Schön:[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Scandal Rocks Scientific Community". Deutsche Welle. 30 September 2002. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Agin, Dan (2007). Junk Science: An Overdue Indictment of Government, Industry, and Faith Groups That Twist Science for Their Own Gain. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-37480-8. 
  3. ^ a b Samuel Reich, Eugenie (2009). Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World. ISBN 978-0-230-62384-2. 
  4. ^ a b Cassuto, Leonard (16 September 2002). "Big trouble in the world of "Big Physics"". 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Beasley, Malcolm R.; Supriyo Datta; Herwig Kogelnik; Herbert Kroemer; Don Monroe (September 2002). "Report of the Investigation Committee on the possibility of Scientific Misconduct in the work of Hendrik Schon and Coauthors" (pdf). Bell Labs. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Cargo-cult science redux, Michael R. Norman, Nature Physics 5, 451–452 (July 2009)
  8. ^ a b The rise and fall of a physics fraudster,, 1 May 2009, also published in Physics World, 22(5), May 2009, page 24. Abridged and edited from Reich, E. S. Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World, Macmillan 2009, ISBN 978-0-230-22467-4.
  9. ^ "Universität Konstanz entzieht Jan Hendrik Schön den Doktortitel" (Press release). University of Konstanz. 2004. 
  10. ^ Von Frank van Bebber (2009-10-28). "Uni Konstanz bleibt bei Aberkennung des Doktortitels". Spiegel Online. 
  11. ^ "Einseitig gewichtet" (Press release). University of Konstanz. 2010. 
  12. ^ Eberhardt, J. Umstrittener Physiker ist Doktortitel los. Stuttgarter Zeitung, 14 September 2011
  13. ^ "Entziehung des redlich erworbenen Doktorgrades bei späterer Unwürdigkeit wegen Manipulation und Fälschung von Forschungsergebnissen rechtmäßig" (in German). Bundesverwaltungsgericht. 31 July 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "DFG Imposes Sanctions Against Jan Hendrik Schön" (PDF) (Press release). Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. 2004. 
  16. ^ Z. Bao, B. Batlogg, S. Berg, A. Dodabalapur, R. C. Haddon, H. Hwang, C. Kloc, H. Meng and J. H. Schön (2002). "Retraction". Science 298 (5595): 961b. doi:10.1126/science.298.5595.961b. 
  17. ^ "Errata". Physical Review B 66 (24). 15 December 2002. Bibcode:2002PhRvB..66x9903S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.66.249903. 
  18. ^ "Errata". Physical Review Letters 89 (28). 31 December 2002. Bibcode:2002PhRvL..89B9902S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.89.289902. 
  19. ^ a b J. H. Schön, Z. Bao (2003). "Retraction: "Nanoscale organic transistors based on self-assembled monolayers" [Appl. Phys. Lett. 80, 847 (2002)]". Applied Physics Letters 82 (8): 1313. Bibcode:2003ApPhL..82Q1313S. doi:10.1063/1.1553995. 
  20. ^ a b Jan Hendrik Schön, Christian Kloc (2003). "Retraction: "Fast organic electronic circuits based on ambipolar pentacene field-effect transistors" [Appl. Phys. Lett. 79, 4043 (2001)]". Applied Physics Letters 82 (8): 1313. Bibcode:2003ApPhL..82R1313S. doi:10.1063/1.1556138. 
  21. ^ a b Jan Hendrik Schön (2003). "Retraction: "Plastic Josephson junctions" [Appl. Phys. Lett. 79, 2208 (2001)]". Applied Physics Letters 82 (8): 1313. Bibcode:2003ApPhL..82S1313S. doi:10.1063/1.1556139. 
  22. ^ a b J. H. Schön, Ch. Kloc, B. Batlogg (2003). "Retraction: "Perylene: A promising organic field-effect transistor material" [Appl. Phys. Lett. 77, 3776 (2000)]". Applied Physics Letters 82 (8): 1313. Bibcode:2003ApPhL..82T1313S. doi:10.1063/1.1556140. 
  23. ^ Donald Kennedy (2003). "Editorial Retraction". Science 300 (5620): 737. doi:10.1126/science.300.5620.737c. 
  24. ^ a b Z. Bao, B. Batlogg, G. Hadziioannou, C. Kloc, H. Meng, J. Wildeman (2003). "Retraction Adv. Mater. 6/2003". Advanced Materials 15 (6): 478. doi:10.1002/adma.200390130. 
  25. ^ "Letters to Nature". Nature 422 (6927). doi:10.1038/nature01462. 

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