Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World

Jan Hendrik Schön published some of the most exciting and ground-breaking physics of the past decade. He published it in the most prestigious specialty journals such as Physical Review Letters, Nature and Science. He won several important prizes and was being nominated for more of them when a problem came to light. The problem was that Schön had no data to substantiate his discoveries . His deception was disclosed not by assiduous reviewers or journal editors, nor his supervisors at Bell Labs, but by an ad hoc group of skeptical readers of his papers on solid-state physics, molecular electronics, superconductivity, and nanoscience. They saw that his results were too good to be true, contained identical background noise in some figures, and that there were too many breakthroughs in too little time to be plausible. While Eugenie Samuel Reich gets the big picture largely correct, she fails to give sufficient credit, in my opinion, to some junior scientists like Lydia Sohn who risked their own careers to challenge the integrity of a rising supposed superstar. The fundamental problem turned out to have been something that is taught in the first chemistry course - how and why to record one's original data in a scientific notebook.

Pick Attribution: 

Eugenie Samuel Reich

Publication Date: 
Thursday, January 1, 2009