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. 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as well as the Outstanding Young Investigator Award of the Materials Research Society in 2002, both of which were later rescinded.
The scandal provoked discussion in the scientific community about the degree of responsibility of coauthors and reviewers of scientific articles. The debate centered on whether peer review, traditionally designed to find errors and determine relevance and originality of articles, should also be required to detect deliberate fraud.
Rise to prominence
Schön's field of research was condensed matter physics and nanotechnology. He received his PhD from the University of Konstanz in 1997. In late 1997 he was hired by Bell Labs, located in New Jersey, United States. 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 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.
In 2001 he was listed as an author on an average of one newly published research paper every eight days. 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.
Allegations and investigation
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. 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, Lynn Loo, 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.
In May 2002, Bell Labs set up a committee to investigate, with Malcolm Beasley from Stanford University as chair. The committee obtained information from all of Schön's coauthors and interviewed the three principal ones (Zhenan Bao, Bertram Batlogg and Christian Kloc). It examined electronic drafts of the disputed articles, 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.
On September 25, 2002, the committee publicly released its report. 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.
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 in the scientific community on how the blame for misconduct should be shared among co-authors, particularly when they share a significant part of the credit.
Aftermath and sanctions
Schön acknowledged that the data were incorrect in many of these articles. He claimed that the substitutions could have occurred by honest mistake. He omitted some data and stated that 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, without achieving similar results. 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.
Schön returned to Germany and took a job at an engineering firm.
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". Schön appealed the ruling, but on October 28, 2009, it was upheld by the university. 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. The state court ruled in September 2011 that the university was correct in revoking his doctorate. The Federal Administrative Court upheld the state court's decision in July 2013, and the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed it in September 2014.
In the meantime, 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 was also unable to serve as a peer reviewer or apply for DFG funds.
Withdrawn journal articles
On October 31, 2002, Science withdrew eight articles written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; S. Berg; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Ambipolar Pentacene Field-Effect Transistors and Inverters". Science. 287 (5455): 1022–3. Bibcode:2000Sci...287.1022S. doi:10.1126/science.287.5455.1022. PMID 10669410. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; R. C. Haddon; B. Batlogg (2000). "A Superconducting Field-Effect Switch". Science. 288 (5466): 656–8. doi:10.1126/science.288.5466.656. PMID 10784445. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Fractional Quantum Hall Effect in Organic Molecular Semiconductors". Science. 288 (5475): 2338–40. doi:10.1126/science.288.5475.2338. PMID 17769842. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; A. Dodabalapur; B. Batlogg (2000). "An Organic Solid State Injection Laser". Science. 289 (5479): 599–601. Bibcode:2000Sci...289..599S. doi:10.1126/science.289.5479.599. PMID 10915617. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "A Light-Emitting Field-Effect Transistor". Science. 290 (5493): 963–6. Bibcode:2000Sci...290..963S. doi:10.1126/science.290.5493.963. PMID 11062124. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; H. Y. Hwang; B. Batlogg (2001). "Josephson Junctions with Tunable Weak Links". Science. 292 (5515): 252–4. doi:10.1126/science.1058812. PMID 11303093. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; A. Dodabalapur; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2001). "High-Temperature Superconductivity in Lattice-Expanded C60". Science. 293 (5539): 2432–4. Bibcode:2001Sci...293.2432S. doi:10.1126/science.1064773. PMID 11533443. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; A. Dodabalapur; B. Batlogg (2001). "Field-Effect Modulation of the Conductance of Single Molecules". Science. 294 (5549): 2138–40. doi:10.1126/science.1066171. PMID 11701891. (Retracted)
On December 20, 2002, Physical Review withdrew six articles written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2001). "Hole transport in pentacene single crystals". Physical Review B. 63: 245201. Bibcode:2001PhRvB..63x5201S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.63.245201. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; R. Laudise; B. Batlogg (1998). "Electrical properties of single crystals of rigid rodlike conjugated molecules". Physical Review B. 58: 12952. Bibcode:1998PhRvB..5812952S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.58.12952. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Mobile iodine dopants in organic semiconductors". Physical Review B. 61: 10803. Bibcode:2000PhRvB..6110803S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.61.10803. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; D. Fichou; B. Batlogg (2001). "Conjugation length dependence of the charge transport in oligothiophene single crystals". Physical Review B. 64: 035209. Bibcode:2001PhRvB..64c5209S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.64.035209. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2001). "Low-temperature transport in high-mobility polycrystalline pentacene field-effect transistors". Physical Review B. 63: 125304. Bibcode:2001PhRvB..63l5304S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.63.125304. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2001). "Universal Crossover from Band to Hopping Conduction in Molecular Organic Semiconductors". Physical Review Letters. 86 (17): 3843–6. Bibcode:2001PhRvL..86.3843S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.86.3843. PMID 11329338. (Retracted)
On February 24, 2003, Applied Physics Letters withdrew four articles written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; Z. Bao (2002). "Nanoscale organic transistors based on self-assembled monolayers". Applied Physics Letters. 80 (5): 847. Bibcode:2002ApPhL..80..847S. doi:10.1063/1.1445804. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc (2001). "Fast organic electronic circuits based on ambipolar pentacene field-effect transistors". Applied Physics Letters. 79 (24): 4043. Bibcode:2001ApPhL..79.4043S. doi:10.1063/1.1426684. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön (2001). "Plastic Josephson junctions". Applied Physics Letters. 79 (4): 2208. Bibcode:2001ApPhL..79.2208S. doi:10.1063/1.1408277. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Perylene: A promising organic field-effect transistor material". Applied Physics Letters. 77 (23): 3776. Bibcode:2000ApPhL..77.3776S. doi:10.1063/1.1329634. (Retracted)
On May 2, 2003, Science withdrew another article written by Schön:
- 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 articles written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; H. Meng; Z. Bao (2002). "Self-Assembled Monolayer Transistors". Advanced Materials. 14 (4): 323–326. doi:10.1002/1521-4095(20020219)14:4<323::AID-ADMA323>3.0.CO;2-5. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc; J. Wildeman; G. Hadziinoannou (2001). "Gate-Induced Superconductivity in Oligophenylenevinylene Single Crystals". Advanced Materials. 13 (16): 1273–1274. doi:10.1002/1521-4095(200108)13:16<1273::AID-ADMA1273>3.0.CO;2-P. (Retracted)
On March 5, 2003, Nature withdrew seven articles written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; M. Dorget; F. C. Beuran; X. Z. Zu; E. Arushanov; C. Deville Cavellin; M. Laguës (2001). "Superconductivity in CaCuO2 as a result of field-effect doping". Nature. 414 (6862): 434–6. Bibcode:2001Natur.414..434S. doi:10.1038/35106539. PMID 11719801. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; T. Siegrist; M. Steigerwald; C. Svensson; B. Batlogg (2001). "Superconductivity in single crystals of the fullerene C70". Nature. 413 (6858): 831–3. Bibcode:2001Natur.413..831S. doi:10.1038/35101577. PMID 11677603. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; H. Meng; Z. Bao (2001). "Self-assembled monolayer organic field-effect transistors". Nature. 413 (6857): 713–6. Bibcode:2001Natur.413..713S. doi:10.1038/35099520. PMID 11607026. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; A. Dodabalapur; Z. Bao; Ch. Kloc; O. Schenker; B. Batlogg (2001). "Gate-induced superconductivity in a solution-processed organic polymer film". Nature. 410 (6825): 189–92. Bibcode:2001Natur.410..189S. doi:10.1038/35065565. PMID 11242074. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Superconductivity at 52 K in hole-doped C60". Nature. 408 (6812): 549–52. Bibcode:2000Natur.408..549S. doi:10.1038/35046008. PMID 11117735. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Superconductivity in molecular crystals induced by charge injection". Nature. 406 (6797): 702–4. Bibcode:2000Natur.406..702S. doi:10.1038/35021011. PMID 10963589. (Retracted)
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; E. Bucher; B. Batlogg (2000). "Efficient organic photovoltaic diodes based on doped pentacene". Nature. 403 (6768): 408–10. Bibcode:2000Natur.403..408S. doi:10.1038/35000172. PMID 10667788. (Retracted)
Further questionable journal articles
The retraction notices from February 24, 2003 in Applied Physics Letters relayed concerns about seven articles written by Schön and published in the Applied Physics Letters:
- J. H. Schön; Z. Bao (2002). "Organic insulator/semiconductor heterostructure monolayer transistors". Applied Physics Letters. 80 (2): 332. Bibcode:2002ApPhL..80..332S. doi:10.1063/1.1431697.
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; A. Dodabalapur; B. Crone (2001). "Grain boundary transport and vapor sensing in α-sexithiophene". Applied Physics Letters. 79 (24): 3965. Bibcode:2001ApPhL..79.3965S. doi:10.1063/1.1423787.
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc (2001). "Charge transport through a single tetracene grain boundary". Applied Physics Letters. 78 (24): 3821. Bibcode:2001ApPhL..78.3821S. doi:10.1063/1.1379986.
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc (2001). "Organic metal–semiconductor field-effect phototransistors". Applied Physics Letters. 78 (22): 3538. Bibcode:2001ApPhL..78.3538S. doi:10.1063/1.1376666.
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc; B. Batlogg (2000). "Efficient photovoltaic energy conversion in pentacene-based heterojunctions". Applied Physics Letters. 77 (16): 2473. Bibcode:2000ApPhL..77.2473S. doi:10.1063/1.1318234.
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc; B. Batlogg (1999). "Reversible gas doping of bulk α-hexathiophene". Applied Physics Letters. 75 (11): 1556. Bibcode:1999ApPhL..75.1556S. doi:10.1063/1.124753.
- J. H. Schön; Ch. Kloc; R. A. Laudise; B. Batlogg (1998). "Surface and bulk mobilities of oligothiophene single crystals". Applied Physics Letters. 73 (24): 3574. Bibcode:1998ApPhL..73.3574S. doi:10.1063/1.122828.
The retraction notice from March 20, 2003 in Advanced Materials mentions concerns about another article written by Schön:
- J. H. Schön; C. Kloc; Z. Bao; B. Batlogg (2000). "Electron Transport in Fluorinated Copper-Phthalocyanine". Advanced Materials. 12 (20): 1539–1542. doi:10.1002/1521-4095(200010)12:20<1539::AID-ADMA1539>3.0.CO;2-S.