BERLIN—A German court has ruled that it is legal to revoke the Ph.D. of disgraced physicist Jan Hendrik Schön. Schön was the center of a spectacular scandal in 2002, and the University of Konstanz revoked his Ph.D. in 2004. Although a university investigation turned up no evidence that Schön had committed misconduct while at the university, university officials asked Schön to return his doctoral certificate based on a state law that allows degrees to be revoked when the recipient proves "unworthy." Schön was found to have faked data in at least 17 papers while he was a researcher at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey.
Schön sued the university, and last year a court ruled in his favor. The university appealed, however, and last week the Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg in Mannheim ruled that the university was within its rights to rescind the degree. The awarding of a doctorate is a confirmation of the recipient's ability to conduct independent scientific research, Judge Reinhard Schwan said in his oral explanation of the verdict last week. A Ph.D. brings with it the public perception of being a member of the scientific community and a presumed high level of trustworthiness, the judge said. When a recipient has violated basic principles of good scientific practice, the title is no longer applicable and should be corrected, he said. He also noted that Schön can still find work as a physicist without a Ph.D. title. Schön is reportedly employed as a process engineer for a company in Germany.
The Baden-Württemberg court said that it would not hear an appeal of its ruling. Schön has 1 month to appeal that decision to a federal court. His lawyer has told German media that he won't rule out an appeal, but Schön's chances of success are considered slim.