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Bell Labs fires researcher

Hendrik Schön falsified results in 16 papers published in scientific journals since 1998, according to a report by Bell Labs.

Bell Labs on Wednesday said it fired a researcher for "falsifying and fabricating" results in 16 papers published in scientific journals since 1998.

Bell Labs spokeswoman Mary Ward identified the researcher as Hendrik Schön, a physicist who began working for Bell Labs in 1998 as a postdoctoral researcher. He became a full-time Bell Labs staffer in May 2001. Bell Labs is the research arm of telephone equipment maker Lucent Technologies.

Schön couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. He acknowledged that some research papers contain incorrect data, according to findings of a committee Bell Labs created in May to investigate Schön's work. The committee's finding, plus Schön's dismissal, were made public in a report Wednesday.

The report, which did not indicate when Schön was fired, details several incidents of supposed scientific misconduct, like using the same data to represent results from different experiments.

"At a minimum, Schön showed reckless disregard for the sanctity of data in the value system of science," wrote the committee, chaired by Stanford University physics professor Malcolm Beasley.

About 20 other scientists who were co-authors on the faulty research papers were cleared of any wrongdoing, Ward said. "He apparently was working alone," she said.

The Schön papers in question date back to 1998 and were published in such prestigious journals as Science, Nature and Applied Physics Letters. Representatives at those publications could not be immediately reached for comment.

Schön conducted research in two relatively new areas of technology, so the "unrealistic precision" he's accused of creating won't have impact on any products on the market now or in the near future, Ward said.

Schön was working on superconducting devices, which have a goal of moving electricity without the usual resistance and power loss. He was among those searching for a more practical way to make these devices, which need to be cooled to very low temperatures using liquid nitrogen.

He also was conducting research into a new arm of nanotechnology called "organic electronics," which is trying to use carbon-based compounds to make electronic devices. Electronic devices are mainly made from silicon, an inorganic material.

Complaints about Schön's work began to reach Bell Labs in 2000, according to Ward. In all, scientists complained about 24 of Schön's papers. According to the committee, Schön wrote a prodigious number of papers, averaging one every eight days in 2001.

In May 2002, Bell Labs asked five scientists that had no connection to the labs to investigate the complaints. The committee ultimately found that 16 of the 24 papers involved faked data.

The remaining eight papers "did not provide compelling evidence of scientific misconduct," the committee noted.