- Series: MacSci
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (April 27, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0230623840
- ISBN-13: 978-0230623842
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World (MacSci) 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Reich, a former editor at New Science, unravels the absorbing story of Jan Hendrik Schön, a researcher at the prestigious Bell Laboratories from 1998 to 2002, who achieved star status in cutting-edge materials technology-super-conductivity, lasers, nanotechnology-by falsifying data. A graduate of Germany's "low key" University of Konstanz, he dove immediately into "a demanding environment... known for big discoveries, ambitious expectations." When his papers on experiments with organic crystals were rejected, he manipulated data and made false claims; publication followed. When the tech bubble burst, Bell came under increasing pressure from parent company Lucent to justify its existence; short-circuiting the normal process of peer review, the lab turned to public relations, "press-releasing exciting scientific findings" to fool investors, customers and Lucent into believing Bell had "a sound long-term technological future." Reich's clear explanation gives general readers a real sense of the excitement generated in the scientific community by Schön's "discoveries," how he made them appear credible and how his ability to dissemble eventually failed him; he also raises profound ethical questions that resonate with current concerns over science and its place in the public sphere.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Reich recounts the read-it-to-believe-it saga of physicist Hendrik Schön. At Bell Labs in the late 1990s, Schön’s apparent discoveries about atomic-scale devices called field-effect transistors earned him a stellar peer-group reputation—until his research was exposed as faked in 2002. While science’s self-correcting mechanism did dissolve Schön’s deceptions, its failure to catch the frauds sooner motivates Reich’s tenacious pursuit of the story. Along with failures in the peer-review process of journals like Science and Nature, which published some of Schön’s papers, Reich found a propensity within Bell Labs to believe Schön’s results, which, had they been real, could have commercially benefited the home of the original, macroscale transistor. Another crucial factor that Reich develops was Schön’s ability to allay tough questions with revised data, though when he began to manipulate and outright invent data remains mysterious, for on that he eluded Reich, too. Nevertheless, Reich’s journalistic persistence and technical thoroughness yield a largely complete, often dramatic account of Schön’s roguery and downfall. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Ad a) I worked at WPAFB and then I moved to UNAM. Suddenly it was much more difficult to publish things because they came out of Mexico. My guess is - just for the sake of argument - if somebody would “invent” Schoen’s results south of the Rio Grande none of them would fly specifically not in Nature. As a result, not the content counts but the geographic origin of the work. I call this bad business.
Ad b) Schoen was misused as the “messiah” with the expectation to save the basic research group of Batlogg. One should not underestimate
the beguiling stimulation of repetitive positive feedback and praise from the chief and colleagues in research…Schoen’s contribution to the disaster was that he was falling for it…
Ad c) The Nobel Prize 1998 – with all due respect to the scientists involved – was, in my opinion, to a large portion a politically motivated attempt to maintain the fainting glory of Bell Labs and probably to prevent its lingering disappearance. I mean to give the Nobel Prize for the fractional quantum Hall effect after the Nobel Prize for the quantum Hall effect in 1985 is a bit like you would give the Nobel Prize to Ford for the invention of the car and to Daimler as well a few years later for the considerable improvement of Ford’s initial concept.
How could Schon fool (nearly) everyone for 4 years? He was a mediocre student, with a poor grasp of the physics underlying his publications. Wouldn't other scientists pop into his lab to see the amazing devices that nobody else could replicate? Did nobody ever insist that he keep notebooks of his experiments, as well as the raw data collected. (Schon apparently kept everything in the Origin graphics package.)
How did he satisfy the colleagues? He used their knowledge against them. He showed them his fictitious data and solicited their suggestions for the next thing to do. He would then fulfill their expectations by manufacturing the data that he had been told to expect. If he were challenged, he would try to be accommodating, changing the graphics or description of the device, or falling back on the excuse that he didn't understand what was happening, but was just presenting data,
Certainly Schon was the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time (Bell Labs during breakup and rapid downsizing). His greatest ability is to tell people exactly what they want to hear, to get useful information from them for his next fraud, and -- always -- to hide his deceptions. Schon is a risk-taker; he lives for the thrill of his game -- manipulating others to get undeserved rewards (praise, fame, money). All his energy goes into planning and generating the next fabrication and deflecting criticism of previous fakes. Such a personality disorder is totally foreign to most scientists, who get their thrills from the real game, and for this reason very few scientists came to the logical conclusion that the whole thing was a con job.
Reich's publisher, Macmillan, did a poor job with the book. There are enough typos to make the book appear not to have been proofread. They used cheap paper, barely above the quality of newspaper. And there are no illustrations or photographs, as others have noted: illustrations to help explain the physics of the devices and show the graphics that eventually got Schon caught, and photos of the people involved.
Reich's treatment at the end of the book suffers because it has no discussion of the specific findings of the external committee that found the work to be fraudulent. This would have been a more satisfying conclusion than simply stating that Schon was fired as a result. But she does an excellent job laying out the problem of scientific misconduct, and the difficulty of its detection when the perpetrator is accommodating and actively deflects criticism. Ultimately, Schon was brought down because he couldn't restrain himself from publishing wild new fabrications on a nearly bi-weekly basis. So I had to wonder how long he might have remained undetected if his rate of publications had not been so frantic and in so many different specialized areas.
Finally, to really understand Schon's motivations, as well as the reasons for his success at Bell Labs, I would suggest the book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work," by Babiak and Hare. Hare is the world expert in this personality type.
Most recent customer reviews
It is very easy to read and comprehensive.
I like it, I recommend this book.