The integrity of research depends on the integrity of the data and the data record. As falsification and fabrication call into question the integrity of data and the data record, they represent serious issues in scientific ethics. Falsification is the practice of omitting or altering research materials, equipment, data, or processes in such a way that the results of the research are no longer accurately reflected in the research record. Fabrication is the practice of inventing data or results and recording and/or reporting them in the research record. Both of these schemes are probably among the most serious offenses in scientific research as they challenge the credibility of everyone and everything involved in a research effort. These offenses make it very difficult for scientists to move forward as it is unclear to anyone what if anything is true and can be trusted– can lead students and colleagues to waste precious time, effort, and resources investigating dead ends. Our interconnectedness makes us all vulnerable when one member acts irresponsibly.
A prime example of this is the case of wunderkind physicist Dr. Jan Hendrick Schon of Bell Laboratories. Allegations of fabrication and falsification of published data first came to light in 2002 when researchers presented Bells Laboratories with evidence that data presented in five papers published over a two year period were suspicious. Noise, which is usually random in pattern, on data in two of the figures looked identical. Only a short time later, the authenticity of data appearing in nine more figures published in eight additional papers were also called into question by the physics community. Ultimately, Bell Laboratories concluded that Dr. Schon either falsified or fabricated data appearing in publications between 1998 and 2001 and terminated his employment. Co-authors retracted seven articles published in Nature and eight articles appearing in Science. Independent efforts by scientists at IBM and Delft University (Netherlands) failed to reproduce data from several studies. Lucent Technologies’ executive summary and report of the investigation can be found here. Since Schon and colleagues had published a large body of work in recent years and since the work was considered to be revolutionary, the impact of his malfeasance on research in the field of field effect transistors (FETs) has been said to be enormous. Govert Schilling in an article appearing in Science magazine in 2002 (G. Schilling. (2002) Science 296, 1584-1585) estimated that over 100 groups worldwide were working on related projects when the misconduct came to light. In a number of these laboratories postdoctoral and graduate students had been unsuccessfully working on efforts to replicate and build on Schon’s work.