An interesting letter in this week's C&EN on scientific fraud:
As I read about the research fraud case at Columbia University (C&EN, July 11, page 4), my mind instantly went back to a similar case at Purdue University uncovered in 1964. I attended my graduation in May of that year and was awarded a Ph.D. in chemistry. A statement of retraction of a Ph.D. was printed in the graduation program. A student studying under the guidance of Robert A. Benkeser was charged with faking his research results, and his Ph.D. degree had been withdrawn.
The student was a very intelligent person, perhaps brilliant. He never seemed to study much and yet easily passed all of his course exams and degree qualifying examinations. His thesis was about the synthesis of silicocyclopentadiene or derivatives thereof. As in the case of Bengü Sezen, his chicanery was discovered when well-known researchers in the field reported to Benkeser that they could not repeat his student’s literature-reported experimental procedures.
Investigation of the student’s work revealed falsely constructed nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectra. Another of Benkeser’s students working in the same laboratory almost had his doctoral work discredited. Fortunately, timely and detailed detective work proved that the second student knew nothing of the fraud, and he was awarded his advanced degree. The student who faked the work allegedly graduated from Harvard University, but I believe the work there also proved fraudulent. Efforts to find the student who perpetrated the fraud were not successful. He was to have started postgraduate work with a famous researcher in Chicago but instead just disappeared.
Stephen E. FrenchI'm under the impression that it was probably a lot easier to fake data back then, but that's just a gut feeling. There were a lot fewer journals back then, and people seemed to pay a lot more attention to them. Sigh.