Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Anna University case: Update 2


First, take a look at the posts by Rahul and Guru for some thoughtful comments.

* * *

One question that keeps cropping up is why the plagiarized paper continues to be available on the journal's website. The Swedes who wrote the original article are pissed that some of the credit for the work may go to the plagiarizers, outsiders like us don't like it, and presumably even the 'authors' of the JMS paper would rather not deal with it. So, clearly, the paper must be pulled from the website, no?

Apparently, no! As Guru has pointed out, a plagiarized paper from Sathyabama University, Chennai (which Arunn blogged about) continues to be available. Similarly, the paper from Kundu's group, which was 'withdrawn' by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, continues to be available at the website (with an obscure link -- An addition or correction has been published -- on the sidebar taking you to the withdrawal notice).

I am told that there's some legal issue that prevents articles that have been published from being taken off the publisher's website.

* * *

In some medical and biomedical journals, all the authors (a) are informed that a paper has been submitted listing them as co-authors and (b) are required to submit a disclosure form regarding any conflict of interest. In some others, (c) all the authors must sign the copyright form. Further, following recent scandals, several journals require (d) a statement from each individual author a statement about his/her specific contribution to the paper.

Clearly, JMS does not do or demand any of these. I guess this -- in particular, (a) -- is what is being used by two of the 'authors' to wiggle out of this mess (and their case may well be a valid one).

* * *

In the hierarchy of crimes in science (or, scholarship in general), plagiarism ranks lower than fabrication and falsification of research data, and rightly so. In other countries, one loses one's job for fabrication, and at least one went to jail! But I'm not aware of anyone who has lost his/her job for plagiarism.

What about India? The results (at least, the ones that I know about) have been mixed. In the highest profile case of fabrication, the culprit -- Vishwajit Gupta of Punjab University -- never lost his job, and his career had a normal end: retirement. In the highest profile case of plagiarism, B.S. Rajput was forced to step down from the vice-chancellorship of Kumaon university (but he did not lose his job).

* * *

Our institutions are not great when it comes to organizing a fair, impartial inquiry into allegations of misconduct, taking them to their logical conclusions, punishing those found guilty, and implementing systemic changes that could prevent similar misconduct in future. [Take a look at Sharath Rao's cynical take on this issue]. One would expect our science academies to take the lead in advocating policies and guidelines that safeguard the integrity of science practiced in India.

At the Indian Academy of Sciences website, you'll find this report on scientific values; and sure, it has a section on plagiarism:

3.1 Plagiarism

Appropriating the already published results of others without proper reference is obviously dishonest. When exposed, plagiarism generally receives the highest publicity and the authors concerned and the system they belong to are put under tremendous pressure. In most cases, the concerned authors offer some explanation in their defense. However, sometimes they disown responsibility and even the knowledge of the papers' existence, claiming that the co-authors included their names without consulting them. Such disclaimers should not be accepted at face value, but should be looked into in more detail. Nobody should communicate a joint paper without the knowledge of the other authors. There is a strong need to take punitive actions to discourage plagiarism. There is a general impression among the scientific community in India that those who indulge in this form of dishonest behaviour do not receive appropriate punishment, and escape relatively unscathed. Stronger and more consistent action would redress this situation.

* * *

Well, I'm yet to find any official statement from the Academy about what it has done (or plans to do) with a known plagiarizer -- whose plagiarism was for a book on intellectual property (!) and who has not issued a public apology -- among its Fellows. Is this document on scientific values just empty rhetoric? Does the Academy have any moral authority when it asks universities to "take punitive actions to discourage plagiarism"?

7 Comments:

  1. Guru said...

    Abi,

    Here is another blogger complaining about non-removal and/or no note on plagiarised articles:


    As far as I can tell, the journals involved haven’t even bothered to add a notation to the articles still available on-line to note that they are plagiarisms, much less do anything to stop this from happening again.


    I guess, if, as you say, there is some legal reasons for not removing a published article, then the copyright forms should suitably be amended so that, in case of proved plagiarism, the article can be removed. Having said that, I do not think that there is any reason not to put a note (giving a link to the investigation reports and warning the potential readers); however, this can only be done online, and there is no way to warn readers of the hard copies of journals. But, in these days of data mining, it should indeed be possible to make sure that the blacklisted articles are never cited -- that should be pretty easy.

  2. Rahul said...

    I was thinking that the online medium should make it easier, not harder, to withdraw a paper. One can't recall thousands of print issues from libraries but one can trivially update the website.

    If you click on the "full text" PDF of the withdrawn Kundu article, the first page says "Additions and corrections: this manuscript has been withdrawn", and every subsequent page has "WITHDRAWN" in big red letters right across it. If they can do that with the PDF, why not with the HTML? Surely the law doesn't distinguish one electronic text format from another.

  3. Sunil said...

    Abi....you may have guaranteed that you'll never be elected to the Indian "Academy of sciences". :-)

  4. Ashutosh said...

    We need to have mandatory short courses in ethics for all beginning graduate students in India.

  5. Abi said...

    Guru: Thanks for that link. I recall reading that post, but didn't realize that many of those plagiarized papers are available online without being flagged as tainted.

    Rahul: It should be easy to do to the online HTML version what JBC did with the pdf version of tainted papers. Perhaps it needs some ruckus before publishers do the right thing.

    Also, publishers should also ensure that these papers are not indexed by search engines.

    Sunil: Let me first do something that's worthy of the Fellowship of IAS, and *then* worry about the implication behind your comment!

    Ashutosh: Nobody needs to tell anyone that copying is a big no-no, and that it just brings scorn and ridicule to its perpetrator. But I agree that you have a point: if people realize how seriously this sort of misconduct is viewed by the scientific community, perhaps they would not be able to use the kind of excuse used by Muthukkumaran in his letter after he was caught:

    "I am extermely sorry mistake caused by me, I apologize for this mistake and beg your pardon. I am not aware of the seriousness of the mistake, as I am a student." [link]

  6. Anonymous said...

    For sure this is not the first skeleton from Anna University Cupboard. Many more will follow but no action will be taken. If a student indulges in malpractice, he is thrown out of the university for unfair means usage. When a faculty from this Anna university enters the hall of fame of plagarists, what a shame, his punishment is that he will not guide any more PhDs. When Shri Arjun Singh Human Resource Development Minister recently said that 'Higher Education is a SICK Child of education either by design or default' he forgot to add 'due to universities like Anna University run by BIG Brothers who are good at you know doing what. Shame on you, Anna university, what cheek you have to talk about recognition of degrees by a top ranking university like BITS Pilani? Do some soul searching

  7. Anonymous said...

    What should happen is that the culprits should act morally, after all they are in the most moral profession. Actually BS Rajput did resign after the committee found him guilty. However, there are people who are continuing on to their post despite several instances of plagiarism proved against them (for instance see a plagiarism scandal in north India