Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mashelkar resigns

Today, Mashelkar resigned from the 'Technical Expert Committee'. In doing so, he has chosen to take cheapshots at his critics:

In a letter faxed to Industrial Policy and Promotion Secretary Ajay Dua, Mashelkar said he was "deeply pained by the fact that doubts, explicit or implicit", have been expressed about his "integrity, competence and motives".

In the light of "personalised attack", Mashelkar said he was relinquishing the position of Committee Chairman and had dissociated completely from the technical expert group on patent law issues.

In choosing to highlight the 'personalised attacks', Mashelkar does serious disservice to those who have used substantive arguments to criticize the Panel's report. Even though plagiarism was the initial trigger, the report has been slammed more for its anemic and poor quality analysis. As Dwijen Rangnekar points out in this EPW article:

... [The Mashelkar Panel report] couches its recommendations in hesitant tones. For instance, in paragraph 5.6 it says that the proposed exclusion is "likely" to contravene India's obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement and proceeds to acknowledge the "perception that even the current provisions of the Patents Act could be held to be TRIPS-non-compliant." Unfortunately, we are neither told why this is "likely" nor whose "perceptions" were considered.

For a more scathing evaluation -- but very much within the realm of professional trashing of a report in the public domain -- take a look at what Graham Dutfield has to say:

Frankly, the Mashelkar report is absolute rubbish and should be trashed completely. And not because of the particular conclusions it came up with. It would not have been a better quality report if the conclusions had been the other way. One wonders how much time these committee members spent on a report that they were apparently given 1-2 years to produce, and that is so feeble. These people plagiarised 14 lines of Shamnad Basheer's paper plus 22 lines comprising a slight "repackaging" of the definitions of micro-organism compiled from the literature by Margaret Llewelyn and Mike Adcock for the Quaker UN Office as presented (and correctly cited) in Basheer's report. That=92s my count but I may have missed more than this. So that is 36 lines from, well, not a 56 page report as the Indian press tends to state, but one that just about stretches to 10 pages excluding annexes. As for Annex 5, this seems to have been put together by a Brazilian law firm. But thankfully they are named, so the committee is at least in the clear there from accusations of plagiarism.

They were so unprofessional and incompetent that that couldn=92t even do a proper table of contents, with the section numbering going from page 2 to 4, back to 2, 10, 15, back again to 2, and then 8-53. If this came from my students as "finished" work, I would throw it back at them. But the audience is not me or a couple of PhD examiners: it's the government and people of India. How can they look at themselves with pride when they are so sloppy even about the most basic report writing tasks?

Let's now look into the text. Some of these problems were pointed out to me by my student Rajesh Sagar but I have gone through it all myself too. On page 2 they refer to themselves as an Expert Group. I shall resist the temptation for cheap sarcasm and move on. Suffice it to say, this report displays little genuine expertise.

On page 4, the first paragraph repeats what is on page 2. This means that section 1.0 (Background) and 2.0 (Approach) contain the same text, albeit 2.0 adds the names and job titles of these eminences. After this it hardly gets better.

On page 5, Annex II promises to summarise patenting practices relating to new chemical entities and micro-organisms in some countries. For NCEs, it summarises that of just one country, the USA. As for micro-organisms, the number of countries covered isn't at all great. Such information is very easy to get. Apparently they could not be bothered to go find it. That's poor.

Page 5 also promises to provide a summary of the various submissions and presentations. Well, there are quite a few of those submissions and presentations. In fact, they form the greater part of the whole report. But there is little if anything in the way of synthesis or analysis of these. One wonders how and in what way they influenced the thinking of the commissioners. Or are they just there for window dressing?

On page 6, the report chooses not to say anything about new medical entities except to note they are not mentioned in TRIPS. Is that not a missed opportunity and a failure to fully comply with the terms of reference? Looks like a cop-out to me.

I understand Professor Mashelkar is a very distinguished scientist. Nonetheless, this is much more than just a "slip -- in the rush of the last working day", as he called it. Having said that, this report minus annexes could have been written by five reasonably hardworking people in one day quite easily! As for his talk of "technical inaccuracies", that's an incredible euphemism for plagiarism; rather like Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" for what others might call "indecent exposure"!

Finally, the whole report looks very suspicious to me. My guess is that the conclusions had been decided on from the start. This would explain their total disinterest in producing any original and objective legal and technical evidence to support those conclusions. I think they just couldn't be bothered. Therein lies the real scandal of this affair, not the plagiarism.

I am willing to concede that a sensitive soul might take the sentence -- "My guess is that ... " -- in the last paragraph as bordering on the personal (and also that Dutfield has other grouses with Mashelkar); but the rest of it is just good solid fisking! To focus on the 'personalised attacks' so exclusively as to ignore the substantive critique is also a form of cheating.

Under the circumstances, the only right response would be "I goofed. Big Time. I'm sorry." It is clear that Mashelkar is not willing to say it.


  1. confused said...

    I wonder why you or any oneelse of the anti-Mashelkar brigade has not criticized any of the other four members of the panel. One of them is the vice-chairman of U.G.C, if the report is as ''biased'' and against ''public morality'' as you say it is, then why not demand that Sharma be removed from his job?

    Or is it just Mashelkar?

  2. Abi said...

    I have served this country for over 13 years, and have headed 32 committees. This is the first time I have been called a member of the Anti-Mashelkar brigade. I am deeply saddened by these 'personalized attacks'. It makes me feel really, really awful that my fellow citizens do not understand me and that they are letting me down in my hour of Mashelkar-neutral crisis.

    Please note that any resemblance between my words above and those in recent interviews with an eminent scientist is not plagiarism but a 'technical inaccuracy'.

    I know many of you expect me to say 'I am sorry that my posts are seen as anti-Mashelkar', but following a certain Stellar Exemplar, I will blame confused bloggers for 'personalized attacks' for that impression.

    Confused: People critical of the Mashelkar Panel's report are demanding that the entire report be scrapped. They have been opposed the earlier move by the government to give this panel a new lease of life to repair its report. When they do that, they are against the entire panel, and not just against Mashelkar.

    Having said that, I have to ask you to stop being coy. You know very well that the chairman of a committee that bungled its task is always the first and the main target of the attacks that follow. [After the loss to Bangladesh, many have already started asking for the resignation of Dravid, Chappell and Sharad Pawar; they are not asking for the team physio's scalp!] You can bet that the criticism would have been as strong and as chairman-centric even if someone else was at the helm.

    So, it's not Mashelkar (to a large extent).

    If there's someone who personalized this shit, it's Mashelkar himself. It is *he* who used a highly personal and emotional defence -- of *his* conduct, of *his* tenure, of *his* service to the country ...

    So, to a small extent, you are right that it *is* "just Mashelkar", but not in the way you implied.

  3. confused said...

    Lol. :)

    I am not being coy. However, I would still argue that comparing team physio to members of Mashelkar committee is stretching it. They have signed the report and are equally ''guilty'' as Mashelkar. Team physio doesn't go out and bat. I agree that Mashelkar would share the larger blame, as a captain would, but can you exclude the other eleven players from criticism?

    Also, a lot of critics have little understanding of Mashelkar committee job. The committee was assessed to judge the compatibility with TRIPS to which India is a signatory, it was not it's job to ensure cheap drugs for the poor or other such considerations. You could argue with some justification that the committee didn't do a great job, however when people attribute motives (pro-MNC) I am not sure they get it!

    Btw, have you really been a member of 32 committiees? Just curious. :)


    (On an unrelated note, if possible, please get rid of this word verification thingy. Makes it extremely hard to comment!)

  4. Abi said...

    Confused: Here's one more data point for you: "Soon after resigning on Saturday, an emotional Mashelkar told NDTV from Pune, 'I even thought of ending my life, my life is in disarray.'"

    Okay, on a trial basis, I will remove the word verification 'feature'. Let's hope it succeeds.

  5. DhiOnlyOne said...

    Hello Professor! Thanks for the two links of the Situationist blog. Both the articles made for an insightful reading! :-)

  6. Rahul said...

    Thanks for removing the captchas, which had provoked me to a peeved post some days back when the darn thing wasn't working :)

    About Mashelkar -- one fairly obvious comment that I haven't seen made (I may have missed it) is that there is a culture in Indian science, particularly the CSIR labs but examples may be found in the best institutes, of the boss's name being on every paper whether he actually contributed or not; and in many cases he may not even have read what was in his name.

    I am told, in contrast, that Prof C N R Rao -- who co-authors one paper a week on average -- reads and vets every word of every paper that has him as an author, not just the bits that concern his own contributions. But he is very much an exception.

    So I'm not surprised that Mashelkar hadn't read or checked the report in his hame; and I'm fairly sure he was genuinely surprised that he was held accountable for it.

  7. Alemari said...

    Dear Abi,
    One point we all miss is that Mashelkar was also the champion of intellectual property rights and that a report which he authored (?) is an example of violation of that right itself is an inexcusable act. But, why other members of the committee are silent? Why only Mashelkar is responding? Does it mean that other Experts also, like Mashelkar, didn't see the report before it was submitted? Incidentally, the report was submitted a day prior to the last day in office of Dr. Mashelkar at DSIR.