Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 92%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (23) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $21.44   
  • Used (18) from $1.99   


"Jan Hendrik Schon was a wunderkind physicist at the world-renowned Bell Laboratories when he claimed to have discovered an easy method for making transistors, the switches that power computer chips. Had his experiments worked, they would have paved the way for huge advances in energy technology and electronics. His work was published in prestigious journals, vetted by Nobel laureates, and promoted by senior managers at Bell Labs. But when fellow researchers failed to re-create his results, the scientific community learned that it had fallen victim to the biggest fraud in the history of physics." In this compelling narrative, former New Scientist editor Eugenie Samuel Reich reveals the dangers of extreme competition in science: how brilliant men and women can blind themselves to sloppy documentation in pursuit of career advancement; how the pressure to produce can lead laboratory chiefs to promote untested data; and how incentives to publish can drive individuals to abandon professional ethics. Reich's psychological account will resonate with anyone who works in any field where the stakes rest on the tension between human integrity and professional ambition.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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.
Kirkus Reviews
Blow-by-blow account of how a Bell Labs researcher scammed his colleagues and the physics community. Former New Scientist editor Reich looks at the career of German researcher Jan Hendrik Schon, who claimed to have built electronic chips that performed amazing feats. Supposedly made of crystallized organic materials, the chips promised radical breakthroughs in computer technology. After graduating from the University of Konstanz, Schon came to the attention of Bertram Batlogg, a highly respected Bell Labs manager who specialized in superconductivity. In 1998, searching for a junior researcher to work with organic crystals he hoped might replace silicon as the basis of chips, Batlogg took Schon on the recommendation of Ernst Bucher, who had overseen Schon's doctorate thesis. Reich is undecided whether Schon was already fabricating data from his experiments, but the author does show that he already had a habit of fudging calculations to make his results resemble the most probable curve. He also hated to disagree with his colleagues. This, Reich argues, led him to exploit the margin of error in his experimental results to make his findings match expectations. But in the fast-paced atmosphere of Bell Labs, something beyond the ordinary was expected. Schon began to publish a series of papers in leading journals, claiming increasingly spectacular results: an organic laser, a light-emitting transistor, even a transistor made from a single molecule. All were faked. Reich meticulously documents Schon's rise to stardom, the doubts when others failed to replicate his experiments and his exposure as a fraud. Along the way, she examines the culture that permitted him to succeed for as long as he did.Slow in spots, but a compelling look inside big science at one of its least admirable moments.
From the Publisher
"Plastic Fantastic offers a compelling, timely and well-written dissection of our era’s most outrageous scientific fraud, and of what it means for science today.”—American Scientist Magazine

“Reich’s readable account of a fairly recent science fraud, is valuable chiefly as a close look at the 'kitchen' where scientific results are assembled and validated—and whence occasionally comes forth something that should not have seen the light of day.”—John Derbyshire, The Wall Street Journal

“Reich pursues this affair in depth…does an excellent job of dealing with the facts of the Schön case”—Martin Blume, Nature


"Eugenie Samuel Reich offers an inside look into how the scientific establishment deals with human imperfection. Plastic Fantastic is a transfixing cautionary tale of how easily wrongdoers can hide and thrive in modern science." —Jörg Blech, author of Inventing Disease and Pushing Pills

"In a warts 'n all expose of the scientific process, Eugenie Reich investigates the world's greatest scientific fraud. Fascinating, startling and highly readable. If you thought science was as pure as the driven snow, prepare to be shocked." —Justin Mullins, consultant editor, New Scientist

“A riveting tale of scientific detective work, and a story about an important issue in science that is often overlooked. A well researched page-turner.” —Amir Aczel, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem


Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230224674
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Series: MacSci Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Eugenie Samuel Reich is a former editor at New Scientist. She has written for Nature, New Scientist, and The Boston Globe, and is known for her hard hitting reports on irregular science. Several of her reports have resulted in institutional investigations. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Into the Woods 11

2 Hendrik 27

3 A Slave to Publication 45

4 Greater Expectations 65

5 Not Ready to Be a Product 85

6 Journals with "Special Status" 105

7 Scientists Astray 129

8 Plastic Fantastic 151

9 The Nanotechnology Department 163

10 The Fraud Taboo 183

11 Game Over 209

Epilogue 235

Notes and Additional References 241

Index 259

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A true story about false science - but why did he do it?

    Plastic Fantastic by E.S. Reich

    The narrative in this book is truly fantastic, in the sense that the story is difficult to believe. If it were a work of fiction, readers would complain that the story is highly implausible. However, it is a true story, and as is the case with real life, leaves many unanswered questions. There are other books that describe scientific fraud. In addition, there are many reported cases of scientists who are tempted to over-interpret their data because they are under great pressure to publish or will slightly "bend" their data so that it provides a better fit with their favorite theory. In Plastic Fantastic, the "hero", Jan Hendrik Schön, has no real data and no favorite hypothesis of his own. He is working in a highly competitive field of organic electronics. The goal is to replace silicon with carbon-based materials, which is not explained especially well in the book. Briefly, a way to formulate carbon-based transistors, etc., would open the whole world of organic chemistry to further manipulation by physicists and initiate a new era for designing computers and other electronic devices.

    In her book, the author describes how Schön got started on the path to fraud and how it essentially took over his entire life until he was finally exposed. It is a fast-moving narrative and very intriguing even though the reader knows how the story will end. The disappointing part of the book is that motives for the actions of Schön and other members of the cast are not explored even in a speculative fashion. Why did Schön get away with his totally contrived results for such a long time? His immediate supervisor at Bell Labs, Batlogg, is a reputable scientist. Why did he never ask Schön to show him the raw data, especially when some of his results were rather controversial? Why did he accept that this one person in his lab was able to make so many spectacular break-throughs when other competent persons had not? Did Batlogg, and many of his peers, simply want to believe what was almost too good to be true?

    What were the motivations of the editors of the various scientific journals in which Schön published his results? Peer reviewers do not have access to the original data, but many of them did raise concerns with some of Schön's results. Apparently these were not always considered by the editors. Did they assume that anything from a prestigious institution such as Bell Labs would be solid no matter what? Were they worried about being held responsible for not quickly publishing these cutting-edge results? Were they too concerned about their rivals getting the chance to publish the material instead of them?

    Lastly, what was Schön's motivation? Was he mainly concerned about getting a secure and high paying position? This seems unlikely from Reich's portrait of him. He was already on the fast-track to a good position in either industry or academics and did not seem to be especially interested in making lots of money. If he felt compelled to manufacture data to get ahead, would it not have been more prudent to invent only one or two results or a minor bending of the data instead of a large body of fraud? Maybe he was just having too much fun! Unfortunately, we will never know.

    This is still a fascinating story and it is not over. Perhaps it is time for the psychologists to get involved and try to make some sense of i

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)