Monday, September 29, 2008

Dark Secret of Hendrik Schon

I was awake rather early this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. The TV was on (normal for me) and I started surfing the channel. At that hour, you mostly get crap and other informercials. However, as I got to the Science Channel, it has just started showing a program with a title that certainly caught my eye. It was called "The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schon".

To those of you who have no clue on who Hendrik Schon is, do a google search. I, on the other hand, am quite familiar with his work and the debacle that occurred. I was at Brookhaven when the proverbial crap hit the ceiling fan, and since there were either many former Bell Labs scientists that were there who still had contacts, or people who just came from Bell labs, I got to hear a lot of news about the investigation. So this is something that I've sort of followed closely over the years.

Anyway, of course, I had to view the TV program (which means that it would certainly prevented me from falling asleep the rest of the morning before I had to wake up). In any case, I found the show to be rather odd. It started with all this weird focus on nanotechnology and "nanobots", including some "disaster" scenario on runaway nanobots taking over our world. Yowzah! What did this had to do with Hendrik Schon and his "dark secrets"?

I think it was 5 or 10 mins into the show that Schon was mentioned and what he has done at that time (2001) and what he was trying to accomplish. He certainly had a series of impressive credentials by the time he was offered a job at Bell labs. No one doubted that. The show then mentioned something about Moore's Law, and how Moore's law might be halted due to the physical limitation to how small one can make a silicon chip. This is where Schon came in when he did his work on organic field-effect transistors. The show went on to give an explanation on why this is such an important and possibly revolutionary finding.

But then, it keeps going back to this nanotechnology and nanobots thing in between describing Schon's work. Only close to the end did it start to mention the scandal and how Schon was "caught" at either duplicating data or fabricating data for some of his work. And then back to nanobots....

It was a very strange program, and I think, too heavy on a very transparent attempt at sensationalism. I would have been more captivated if they had focused more on the scandal, the time line of when things happened, an interview of all the principal players who were the first to voice doubt in what Schon was producing, an interview with some of the panel doing the investigation, etc.. Those would have given a lot more insight into what was going on, and the atmosphere at Bell labs at that time. Instead, all I got was some superficial coverage of what was a very important event in physics. And then, more of those nanobots that could destroy all life forms.

Maybe they're hoping that the threat of possible annihilation could give the show as much free publicity as that being given to the LHC. Not gonna happen!



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comment. I too thought the program was really odd.
From journalistic view, the whole thing was a mess. The show script seemed to be based on the premise that Schon was not interesting enough on his needed something else, so they threw in that ridiculous life eating gray goo. Somewhere near the end of the show I fell asleep and never found out what happened to him. This morning I googled his name and was 100 times more enthralled reading about him on line. What I really want to know is whatever happened to him. The TV show made it sound like he had died, but based on what I'm reading this morning he is still around somewhere?

ZapperZ said...

I'm guessing that he's still around, but keeping a very low profile. The last piece of news I heard was that University of Konstanz was considering stripping him of his PhD degree. I didn't follow that closely on the outcome of it because by then, his personal life is no longer relevant to the debacle.


Anonymous said...

The question of what has happened to Schon is a mystery. The programm spoke of him no longer around, but never said what happened to him. Did he just disapper like many other great minds that the goverment doesn't want around? What a brilliant person.

Michael Ronayne said...

When I viewed The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schön on the Science Channel this past Sunday (September 28, 2008) night, I was surprised at the anti-science viewpoints expressed during the program. I watched the program a second time on Tuesday morning and realized that the sensational neo-Luddite statements were editorial views expressed by the narrator (Jack Fortune) and not the scientists interviewed during the program.

The program was originally broadcast by the BBC on February 5, 2004 and rebroadcast by the Science Channel on September 28, 2008. I do not know why four and half years passed between the BBC and Science Channel broadcasts. The original program summary and transcript, which appear to be identical with the Science Channel broadcast, are available on the BBC website.

The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schön - programme summary

The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schön - transcript

Read the transcript and note that the inflammatory statements are made by the narrator. This program is nothing but BBC Environmentalists propaganda based on the Precautionary Principle. I am extremely disappointed that Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil would allow their good names to be used in such an enterprise.

ZapperZ said...

Now THAT I didn't know. But after you mentioned it, it now makes a bit more sense on why they kept going on and on about the disaster scenario brought about by these nano structures. It really is ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as the LHC disaster black hole scenario.

It is sad that they had to disguise that intention behind the unfortunate Schon incident. Whatever he's guilty of, that guy certainly does not deserve to be associated with such nonsense and taken advantage of like this.


SketchArtiste said...

So I guess none of you are going to admit that the few minutes of NanoTech Disaster Scenario and premise of biological/organic computer chips didn't keep you riveted and awake waiting to hear what the "Dark Secret" was??? I never watch TV that late but also found myself surfing and unable to go to sleep after the show started. Nice JJ Abrams buildup with a "much ado about nothing" ending though. That being said...for a late night show on the SCIence channel they certainly got my attention.


Anonymous said...

I also watched that same program and thought they could have done a way better job. I suppose that since the program originally aired in 2004 when the scandal was still fresh maybe at that time they didn't have enough material to fill up one hour and were just striking while the iron was hot. Nevertheless I felt rather annoyed at how the program was entitled "the dark secret of Hendrick Schon" yet in the end there was only maybe 15 minutes total about his scandal and the rest was all this irrelevant futuristic sci-fi fantasy. Anyways, I thought it was interesting that they managed to interview two of the physicists who first caught him out. I can identify with the guy from Cornell who said something about how everyone thought it was weird that Schon's experiments always worked on the first try even when everyone else in the field had been struggling for years.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that Bell labs would let such a fraudulent character slip through the gates. I also find it hard to believe that such a reputable scientist would want to falsify data, and if he, for some odd reason, had the desire to do so, I'm sure he would've been smarter about it. History has shown that great minds have been stopped dead in their tracks because they knew too much for their own good, Tesla is a perfect example. Considering that the show seemed to focus primarily on the potential consequences that we would face if Hendrik Schon was successful, perhaps he was, just too soon. It's true that we could pay the ultimate price if nanotechnology makes a larger technological leap than mankind is ready for. But, at the same time, it could be the missing link that's needed to make advancements in gene therapy, stem cell research, organ cloning etc. His articles shouldn't be excluded from the public's eyes, I've tried to access his peer reviewed articles and all of his work during his time at Bell Labs has been emitted. We should be able to review his work and judge for ourselves what is and isn't relevant, that way, we can use his ideas as a reference that may point us in the right direction.

Marcus Aurelius said...

I saw this show last night. The really suck you in by leading you to believe he knew something really dangerous and wound up dead in a dark alley.

The gray goo take on nano-technology is the worst case scenario and that is about as unlikely as the dream best case scenarios of the technology. Of course, that scenario they kept bringing up is riveting.

In the end it is shown that Schon is a huckster. A smart guy I am sure, but a huckster none-the-less. Science is done by humans all stained by original sin. The scientific method & the process of peer review is setup explicitly to catch the hucksters. Still hucksters will get through from time to time, but the process worked and Schon was unmasked.

Anonymous said...

Today is January 16th. Like yesterday, it was cold as hell today and I work outdoors. It can be raher exhausting. So when I tried to watch this show last night, I was damned curious to know what this "Dark Secret" was but nodded off toward the end, only to wake up five minutes into the next program. Zut alors!
Falsifying research, eh? That's it? That's the rabbit they were hiding in the top hat? The bildup made it sound like Schon was a real-life Vergil Ulam (the rogue nano researcher in Greg Bear's great novel Blood Music). Pish.

Anyhoo, I suspect the gray goo problem wouldn't be quite as impressive as all that in reality. Reason? Energy. Nanobots, like living critters, need energy. They can only do hat available energy allows, and living critters are already optimized for competing for energy. If energy were not an issue, Antarctica would be covered in vines. Antarctica has some lichens, some bacteria, and some animals that get their food from the sea, and that's about all that can live there based on available energy.

Anonymous said...

A very odd programme indeed. There should have been more about him and any "good" that he may have done along the way. What happened to him and his whereabouts would have been welcomed. Way too much commentary with someone called Michio Kaku, a most irritating man. A theoretical physicst that is a Carl Sagan wannabe. Good grief, he really added nothing to the script. A lot of video time wasted on showing him holding various semiconductor components. How did this guy get to be the mainstay and not Shon on a programme about Shon.
Shon a brilliant physicist disapears, what's left for us? The Michio Kakus of the pop science world. Balderdash I say!

Anonymous said...

1.) Just saw the show tonight.

2.) I suspected it was horrible because I'm only a casual science-liking guy.

3.) Halfway through the show, I googled Hendrik Schon because I was impatient at how crappy it was and figured I'd find a lot better info. on the web, like he took the entire staff of Bell Labs hostage with a couple grey goo bazookas.

4.) Google led me to this blog, which confirmed my thoughts about how horrible the show was. I know there was no interview with Schon, but I don't even recall hearing mentioned that they even tried.

5.) Idiots.

Bryan C said...

I'm watching a recording of this show now, and I can only agree with all of the earlier comments. I had some hope until five minutes in, when they revealed the dark future where sparkly tornadoes of Grey Goo devour helpless pigeons while inexplicably leaving all the roads, architecture, and plant life completely intact. Apparently science has confirmed that both zombies and grey goo prey only on the flesh of the living. Awful, muddled show, just a sensationalistic scare-story with a Schon's fraud thrown in to provide an excuse.

Anonymous said...

I could not stay awake.. Tried, but the show was just too bad. But I fell asleep wondering... 'What is the terrible dark secret?' Takes two minutes in the morning to find out the dude is a fraud. So what the heck did that have to do with nanotechnology?

Of course that is what I get for watching SC past midnight.

Anonymous said...

They're airing it again, and I'm as weirded out as everyone else. Did they mash two entirely different show concepts into one? What's going on? What's this gray goo...?

But I love that I googled "Dark Secret of Hendrik Schon" and this post was the first result! Especially because this was just what I was looking for: confirmation that other people found it as strange as I did.

I was also pretty irked that they kept making it sound like Schon was the founder of nanotechnology. "Schon's discovery"? What are they suggesting he discovered? I thought the point was that his "discoveries" were fraudulent...

Anonymous said...

This show sucked. The "gray goo" business is nothing but pure stupidity, and an attempt to scare the viewing public into thinking that we are all going to die as soon as someone successfully builds a nanocomputer, or some such nanotechnology.

Sadly, a quick trip across the internet confirmed my suspicions that this is pure rubbish.

This Schon guy is interesting, in a sad sort of way, and i would have preferred if the show omitted the "gray goo" stuff and focused on the real story: what happened to this guy after the scandal?

A little more web surfing shed some limited amounts of light on the subject, but i couldnt find a whole lot. I suppose the people who wrote this show couldn't either.

Unknown said...

I too happened to catch this on the science channel at a very early hour, but still managed to fall asleep a little more than halfway through.
It intrigued me to the point of searching the internet for information, first i tried organic computing, then for physicists, then nano technology, etc....
3 hours later I thankfully found your sight. My insaitiable search was due to the statement from the show -" I knew he would get the nobel prize or wind up in prison"
What fantastic bait.
Anyway, I am dissapointed in the Science channel as they have not followed their name.
Not only was this show not produced in the manner of informing anyone of truly pertinent science information, but they had a history of the earth show that stated the earth was formed or developed by the collision of two planets?????
Discovery's spin off for slander and propoganda.
Why intentionally mislead people with erroneous information?