Striking resemblance. Bell Labs is investigating a possible duplication of data in several publications. (* The author has corrected the bottom graph.)

Pioneering Physics Studies Under Suspicion

Officials at Bell Laboratories, the research arm of Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, New Jersey, are forming a committee of outside researchers to investigate questions about a recent series of acclaimed scientific studies. Outside researchers presented evidence to Bell Labs management last week of possible manipulation of data involving five separate papers published in Science, Nature, and Applied Physics Letters over 2 years.

The papers describe a series of different device experiments, but physicists are voicing suspicions about the figures, portions of which seem almost identical even though the labels are different. Particularly puzzling is the fact that one pair of graphs show the same pattern of "noise," which should be random.

The groundbreaking papers include Bell Labs physicist Jan Hendrik Schön as lead author and his colleagues at Murray Hill and elsewhere as co-authors. Schön is the only researcher who co-authored all five papers in question. Everyone involved agrees that the questions need further investigation, but many fear that the impact could be devastating for Bell Labs and for solid state physics. Schön told ScienceNOW that he stands behind his data, and he says it's not surprising that experiments with similar devices produce similar-looking data.

Schön, who joined Bell Labs in 1988, has worked most closely with former Bell Labs physicist Bertram Batlogg--now at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich--and Bell Labs chemist Christian Kloc. His work has focused on efforts to make novel types of transistors using organic materials. He was the lead author on at least 17 papers in Science and Nature in the last 2.5 years.

Until this week, many physicists believed the impressive string of results was worthy of consideration for a Nobel Prize, although other groups have reported no success in reproducing Schön's most striking results. Last week, several physicists began to present their doubts to company managers. Bell Labs spokesperson Saswato Das says that company officials take the concerns "very seriously." Within hours of hearing of them on 10 May, Das says that Lucent management decided to form an external review panel chaired by Stanford University physicist Malcolm Beasley. Das says, "The panel will be given full freedom to make an independent review of concerns that have been raised." Physicist Paul McEuen of Cornell University, one of the first to question the data openly, says that Lucent is taking the right step: "Malcolm Beasley has great stature in the community. ... Everybody wants to get to the truth."