More Scarlet Letters for Schön

Staff Writer

In 2001 Jan Hendrik Schön, the former physics prodigy at Bell Labs, wrote papers at the astounding rate of one an average of every 8 days. Now in the wake of a 25 September Bell Labs report that concluded Schön had committed widespread misconduct, the retractions are coming almost as fast. Today, officials at the American Physical Society (APS) announced that they were posting retractions of two papers online today, with more to follow early next week.

According to Martin Blume, editor-in-chief of APS's journals, all authors on the two papers being pulled today agreed to the retractions. Those papers, Blume explains, were red-flagged by the Bell Labs committee as likely containing “substituted data,” a clear case of scientific misconduct. APS also plans to post retractions for four additional papers that were not reviewed by the committee. In this case, all the authors except Schön have agreed to the retractions. Blume adds that APS also plans to post notices for two other papers that are not being retracted. These will alert readers to the controversy, but add that the authors continue to stand behind the papers: In one of those papers Schön is the only author.

Blume says APS editors felt it was important that all of the papers that included Schön as a co-author since 1998 be dealt with, and not just those flagged by the Bell Labs report. "Given the notoriety of this case, we felt that people ought to know the status of all of the articles," Blume says. Instead of taking the retracted papers off the journal's Web sites, the journals instead will link retractions to the online papers and publish errata in the paper copy journals. "We do not want to tamper with the archive of published papers," says Blume. "It will say in red 'retraction.' It's like a scarlet letter."

In the past, Schön has denied committing misconduct, saying only that he made "mistakes." He could not be reached for comment.

Related sites
Bell Labs report

Posted in Scientific Community