Scientists are people too, and so like any of the rest of us they sometimes get derailed by the temptations of fame, money, and personal ambition. Even lay people wanted cold fusion to be real. And physicists really wanted Bell Labs' Hendrik Schön"s work on superconductivity to be true. PhD students have staked their careers on his published results (90 papers in peer reviewed journals in three years).
Many physicists now wonder about Schön's incredible productivity. "I am guilty of extreme gullibility," says Nobel laureate Philip Anderson. "I have to confess it. We should all have been suspicious of the data almost immediately." Ramirez of Los Alamos says, "I find it hard to even read that many papers, much less write the them"
As with every other human endeavor, science ultimately depends upon the integrity of those who practice it for its success.
"Science is scientists," said William Wallace, teacher and head of the science department at Washington's Georgetown Day School. "It's a human activity." Still, Wallace concedes that "A little trust is chipped away every time something like this happens." Pointing to the "heroes I had growing up" -- like Richard Feynman, the maverick Nobel prize winner who inspired generations of physics students -- Wallace notes that now "there's an incredible amount of pressure on young and midcareer scientists. They always need to know where the next grant is coming from." The result is "careerism," not heroism or pursuit of the truth. And that leaves the teacher with a question: "In the end, if there isn't respect for scientific truth, then what have you got?"