When Scientists Go Bad

Science has had its share of fraudsters over the years.

By Susan KruglinskiMar 3, 2006 6:00 AM


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Scientific research depends on trust, so it should come as no surprise that Korean biologist Hwang Woo Suk was able to fool colleagues into believing that he had cloned stem cells from 11 different patients. But scientific research also depends upon verification and replication, so it should also come as no surprise that he was caught. Researchers can take some solace from knowing that science has recovered from many other audacious scandals:

Victor Ninov, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and GSI in Germany History: In 1999 he codiscovered elements 116 and 118, the heaviest known elements. How caught: Other researchers couldn't replicate the experiment. A yearlong internal investigation at the lab concluded that it never happened. Extent of fraud: Ninov has also been accused of falsifying data for other heavy elements, numbers 110 through 112, although independent experiments have confirmed their existence.

Shinichi Fujimura, Tohoku Paleolithic Institute History: In 1981 he discovered the oldest stoneware found in Japan. He has also investigated more than 150 ancient sites in that country. How caught: In 2000 a newspaper published photos of him burying artifacts from previous excavations at a dig site; he later confessed. Extent of fraud: Fundamental ideas about Japan's history have been called into question, textbooks were rewritten, and more than 20 artifacts on display at the Tokyo National Museum removed.

Reiner Protsch, University of Frankfurt History: Over 30 years he carbon-dated numerous fossils, including skull fragments from "Hahnhöfersand Man," a supposed Neanderthal. How caught: In 2001 a colleague sent some of the dated fragments to Oxford University for a second opinion and found major discrepancies. Extent of fraud: Subsequent tests showed the ages on many of his skulls were off by tens of thousands of years. Protsch is also suspected of plagiarism, faking fossils, and selling university property to collectors.

Jan Henrik Schön, Bell Labs

History: In 2001 he announced that he had produced a molecular-scale transistor, a new type of electronics that would transform the industry. How caught: Colleagues noticed his data seemed too clean or contradicted the laws of physics. Extent of fraud: An investigative team identified 16 instances of falsified data in his papers.

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