My 2009 book, Plastic Fantastic: How The Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World, describes the fraud of physicist Jan Hendrik Schön at Bell Laboratories. Between 2000 and 2002, Schön published a series of high-profile scientific articles claiming advances in organic electronics research; many of which contained fabricated data and had to be retracted. Among other aspects of his case, I describe in the book how the financial pressure of the dot-com collapse damaged critical thinking and debate in basic research operations at Bell. As the stock price plummeted, the appeal of easy publicity derived from publication in high-profile, glossy, scientific journals incentivized shortcuts in previously rigorous internal review procedures. One chapter also documents the impact of the fraud on early career researchers outside Bell, who spent countless hours and lab resources failing to replicate Schön’s fabricated experiments.
My reporting for the book only began after October 2002, when Bell Labs published an investigation report that laid bare many of Schön’s worst fabrications. This report, coming a few short months after allegations of fraud appeared in the press, was the result of Schön’s scientific critics, the whistleblowers of his fraud, and eventually the institution, taking the courageous but necessary steps to clarify the situation.