Monday, September 21, 2009

Fisking Sancheti

In many cases of plagiarism, we don't get to hear much from the perpetrator except for a mini-quote here and there. But in Sancheti's case, TNIE has done us all a favour by publishing Sancheti's detailed response to the newspaper's questions. [See the previous post for all the relevant links; this post is just about Sancheti's response]

Sancheti's defence starts with offence:

The charge is baseless since the background of the paper has not been understood in the right perspective.

What is the right perspective, according to Sancheti?

Firstly, the authors never make a claim for new knowledge through the equations developed. It only made an appropriate usage duly acknowledging the persons who actually did it. To support above I quote from the journal’s (IET Journal) editorial:”Equally aggrieving, of course, is to be accused of plagiarism, and I feel it is important to reiterate that acknowledgment of the original paper was given, if not explicitly.” In this case, the fact remains that authors have referenced Naryanan’s paper thrice in addition to several other references from other important researchers.


The facts are against Sancheti here. Sancheti and his co-authors may have cited the work of Nayaranan et al (1996), but they didn't cite that work where it really mattered: the plagiarized parts -- primarily, Section 2 -- of their 2007 paper. The implications of this action -- or, non-action -- of theirs is clear: those parts represent their original contribution. This is not just the right perspective, it's the only valid perspective!

Sancheti's use of citations to the 1996 paper is not "the right perspective." It is spin. Sure, the 1996 paper is cited, but not in the parts that are haunting him now.

* * *

A bit later, he quotes from the editorial announcing that the 2007 paper was being retracted:

Therefore, while acknowledging the original authors, there might arise some communication barrier such as perception, technical completeness, significance of information etc.

To support the above I once again quote verbatim from editorial. “While it is indeed true that Joshi et al cite in their work, the impression created in the readers’ minds is that the equations derived in their work are based on their own work. Outright plagiarism, of course, is constituted by the copying of material with no acknowledgment of the source, which is not the case here. Due acknowledgment has been given by the author, which makes one reluctant to pass judgement on the author’s intention in reproducing the material.” It is absolutely clear from the above that it is just an impression, and that the editors have not passed any judgment.

"It is just an impression." That's what his primary defence amounts to. Not whether this impression is justified. If you read the original and the plagiarized pieces, I have no doubt at all that you too would be convinced that it was plagiarism.

* * *

Then comes this very curious defence:

The paper still remains to be online as you can check from copy of the download attached with this [mail].

So what? So are so many other disgraced papers that continue to be available years after their officially pronounced demise.

Want examples? Take a look at this post.

I don't know what prevents journals from yanking these papers off their websites, and from putting up a note blaring "This paper was plagiarized, so it has been retracted. Go to this page to access that disgraceful paper." Looks like Sancheti will not settle for anything other than such a bold (and ugly) measure!

Isn't Sancheti playing a shady game here? Isn't he misleading people by effectively saying, "What plagiarism? What retraction? The paper is still available!"

* * *

Then, there's this:

On whether he has disclosed the matter either to NIT-K’s Board of Governors or the MHRD.

A: Allegations/impressions remain as they are till they are proved beyond doubt for any offence, therefore there is no need for informing authorities about it. In any case, since the matter has come to my notice now, I will take it up with the publishers as they did not inform us of their action.

Take a look at that answer and see if there's more dishonesty behind it. Academic publishers may be profit-hungry leeches; but by the same token, they also do everything to cover their asses when they do something that could potentially damage people's reputation -- nobody wants an unnecessary (and expensive) lawsuit alleging libel and defamation.

Is it possible that the journal alerted only one of the authors, first about the problem in their paper, and later about their decision to retract the paper? Is it possible that this author is not Sancheti? Is it possible, then, that this author -- either S. Joshi or A. Goyal -- didn't alert his co-authors about these letters / e-mails?

Is it also possible that Sancheti was unaware of the commotion among concerned NIT-K alumni (see this post, for example)?

All those things are possible, but then, what do they tell us about Sancheti's cluelessness? How can someone be so ignorant about an event that could have such a serious, career-threatening consequence?

In any case, further investigations will clear up this matter, and my guess is that Sancheti's version is likely to survive them. Sancheti is likely busy preparing a statement that he was misquoted here.

* * *

Here's the best part of his response:

On whether he should still continue as Director?

A: Since the allegations are baseless, the issue does not arise.

Sancheti just doesn't get it!

He has to go. Not as a professor of electronics and communication engineering, but as the Director of NIT-K.

In discussing the Anna University case, I said:

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.

In other words, plagiarism is "merely serious" -- as opposed to fabrication and falsification which are "Really Serious." Typically, the perpetrators of plagiarism are censured, which is clearly a public embarrassment.

But plagiarism is a bad, bad deal if the perpetrators occupy (or, want to occupy) positions where they have power over people. In such positions, there's this not insignificant problem of having to censure other perpetrators of similar (or, more serious) crimes. They would need a lot of moral authority, wouldn't they, to perform this highly unpleasant task?

It is the loss of moral authority that Sancheti has to worry about in the short run. History may be on the side of protecting his professorial salary but, as this TNIE story shows, history is certainly not on the side of protecting his position of power over people [though, I would still have to wonder about his power over his students if he is allowed to advise them on their research].

It is Sancheti's position as the Director of NIT-K that makes this plagiarism charge problematic for him and his institution.

Sancheti must step down and step away. If he doesn't do it voluntarily, it's the job of the NIT-K Board to make him do it.


  1. karatalaamalaka said...

    Holy cow! I had commented about this plagiarism in Professor Madras' blog on August 18.

    Check it out here.

  2. Anonymous said...

    He is a member of the editorial board of "Journal of Services Research" ! The only accomplishment missing is the superb kisser of behinds.

  3. Anonymous said...

    There is also another scam behind this chap. Recruitment in couple of departments seems to have had some scandals that are not yet in public domain. Hmm...

  4. Anonymous said...