SPECIAL REPORT Jan Hendrik Schön the Art of Falsification 25 WINTER 2015 N° 36 silence that permeates the scientific community. Insufficient protection for whistleblowers, who expose themselves when they report fraud, adds to the problem. These factors are exacerbated by ever-increasing pressure on researchers to “publish or perish,” i.e., to produce results or risk losing their funding or even their jobs— enough to wonder whether the constant assessments and fierce competition among researchers haven’t contributed to creating this “culture of fraud.” A global response Growing awareness of the perils of fraud, stirred by the outcry over a number of much-publicized cases, has prompted several national and international scientific organizations to address the problem. Three World Conferences on Research Integrity have been held since 2007, with the next taking place this year in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). These events bring together researchers, administrators, funding institutions, scientific publishers, and representatives of learned societies to “discuss strategies for harmonizing misconduct policies and fostering responsible conduct in research.” They have led to the drafting of summary statements that spell out the responsibilities of researchers as well as the principles of governance for promoting ethical research practice.16 These documents instruct researchers, among other things, to keep a record of their work—including all raw data and any changes of plans or hypotheses during the experiment— and make it readily accessible. They also specify the obligation of researchers to notify competent authorities of any misconduct that they may be aware of, without running the risk of being sidelined or, worse, punished, as is unfortunately often the case. The statements also call upon scientific institutions and journals to implement “procedures for responding to allegations of misconduct and other irresponsible research practices and for protecting those who report such behavior in good faith.”17 All countries and research organizations are encouraged to adopt and apply this “Hippocratic Oath” for scientists. As for the CNRS, following the publication of its guide to promote good practice, the COMETS has also been discussing the issue with representatives of important institutions in France—a collaborative effort which should soon lead to the definition of a national charter on integrity in research. The manual has been distributed to unit directors and all research and higher education institutions in the country. Its main conclusion is that, while charters and guides are essential, one cannot, as former COMETS chairman and member of the Académie des Sciences Pierre Léna puts it, “continue to flood the system with more barriers, rules, and regulations. In most cases, we simply have to rely on the conscience of the researcher.” ii Y.P. In the early 2000s, the young German physicist Jan Hendrik Schön emerged as the rising star in his discipline after making a series of apparent breakthroughs in the field of condensed matter and nanotechnology. He had been recruited by the prestigious research center Bell Labs in 1997, immediately after completing his PhD. In 2000, he published eight articles in Science and Nature, and produced more than one article a week in 2001. That same year, he announced in Nature that he had successfully designed a molecular transistor, which could have been the first step toward the development of silicon-free organic nanoelectronics. Schön was awarded several scientific prizes for this achievement, but his meteoric rise came to a sudden halt in May 2002. Following a series of complaints filed by research teams who could not reproduce his published results, Bell Labs opened an investigation—and found that Schön, acting under false pretenses, had destroyed his raw experimental data and could not even provide a logbook. In September 2002, the investigation concluded that at least 16 of the 24 allegations of fraud were valid. At first, Schön claimed to have made an honest mistake, but ultimately admitted that he had manipulated his results to make them more convincing. Most of his articles were retracted and his PhD was revoked. He now works for a private company. As for the researchers who had co-authored the fraudulent articles, their integrity was never put in doubt. The case triggered a heated debate on the relevance of the traditional peer review system for evaluating the accuracy and originality of scientific papers.
To see the actual publication please follow the link above