Thursday, September 15, 2011

Schön loses his Dr. for good

The Stuttgarter Zeitung (via dpa) reports that Jan Hendrik Schön has lost his Dr. for good.

Schön, a physicist and shooting star in research, was awarded a doctorate 1998 from the University of Konstanz in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. He moved to a large research organization (Bell Labs) in the US and began producing amazing results in the area of nanotechnolgy - at times publishing one paper every 8 days. 17 papers were published in Science and Nature,  before it was discovered that he was fabricating data.

A number of researchers became suspicious about the exactness of his measurements in 2001, in 2002 Bell Labs started an internal investigation. They determined that at least 16 papers were based on fabricated data, and fired him on the spot. Prized that had been awarded him were revoked, and co-authors withdrew some of the papers. Science withdrew 8, Nature 7 of his publications. (The papers are listed in the Wikipedia article linking his name)

The University of Konstanz was so angered by this - and the ensuing public debate about scientific misconduct - that his doctorate was revoked in 2004. It was not revoked on the grounds that his doctorate was false, but on the basis of a state law that provides for revocation on grounds of "dishonorable conduct". There was some controversy about his, because the law was used in the Third Reich to strip doctorates from Jewish scientists.

Schön sued the university and won, and the university appealed to the state court. They overturned the ruling of the lower court, and since this is a state law, no appeal to the federal court is possible. The doctorate remains rescinded.

It was a long, long process, but it is good to know that the courts are upholding decisions taken by the universities. It will be interesting to see if this has any relevance for the other cases in which doctorates were rescinded on the basis of plagiarism, and the former doctorate holders suing the universities.

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