Friday, October 30, 2009

German University Rescinds Doctorate

Spiegel online reports that the University of Konstanz is standing by its decision to rescind the dissertation defended in 1997 by the physicist Jan Hendrik Schön. Schön had been working at Bell Labs in the USA on nanotechnology when it was revealed in 2002 that he was inventing the work he was publishing about. He was fired and a long discussion about scientific integrity and the peer review system began.

In 2005 the University of Konstanz used a passage in their dissertation rules to pull the doctorate out from under him: a doctoral title can be rescinded when the behavior of the person after obtaining the doctorate demonstrates that the person is unworthy of bearing such a title. Schön objected on the grounds that his dissertation was okay, the fakes only came after.

It has taken the university 5 years to decide to stand by their decision. While I applaud the decision, I do wonder if it really needed five years for this.

Schön's only recourse now would be through the court system, and that may take even longer. Spiegel reports that in a recent case involving the University of Bonn, it took the courts eight years to decide in favor of the university rescinding a doctoral title.

1 comment:

  1. I also think the university is right, but I can understand that the legal issue is tricky.

    After all, rescinding a doctorate for bad bahaviour after having obtained it is extremely rare, so it could be considered a "dead letter", and as an ad-hoc penalty applied unfairly in just this one case. Making a watertight case against such attacks does not seem so trivial to me.