India’s leading science funding agency has withdrawn a prestigious fellowship it had awarded last year to a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, after an investigation charged him with scientific misconduct.
Suman Chakraborty, a professor of mechanical engineering at IIT-KGP.
Two panels of experts set up by the DST found that Chakraborty had portrayed research he had completed before 2005 as the outcome of a DST-supported project which he had undertaken between 2005 and 2008, sources told The Telegraph.
His DST-supported project involved the prediction of how biological tissues interact with lasers, a science that may lead to new strategies to fight cancer. In a project completion report submitted to the DST earlier this year describing his work during the 2005-2008 period, Chakraborty had reproduced verbatim his own research paper published in a scientific journal in 2005, according to the findings.
G.S. Mudur of The Telegraph has the full story.
Some quick observations / comments:
First, a disclosure: Suman Chakraborty is an alumnus of IISc's Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he finished his thesis in record time (IIRC, less than a year). I have had casual chats with him a few times when he was a student; I do not recall any interaction with him after his graduation.
Chakraborty has been accused of passing off his old (pre-2005) research as something that was done under a project whose funding started only in 2005. At least two panels have found him guilty of this charge. From The Telegraph story, it appears that Chakraborty himself is not disputing the fact behind the charge.
I know of situations where people do quite a bit of groundwork before the project begins officially; they are then in a position to start publishing within a short time after the project starts. Chakraborty seems to have taken his groundwork to publications well before the official project start. In his mind, the whole thing -- his groundwork as well as the work he did after the project started officially -- may have formed one long continuum, but the funding agency (and the people it appointed to investigate this issue) has not bought into this view.
In comparison with the "high crimes" in science -- fabrication, falsification or plagiarism -- Chakraborty's offence is a minor one. If I may use an analogy here, he has not been accused of murder or manslaughter; he has been found guilty of a Section 420 offence.
Section 420 is an apt analogy here: he has been accused of cheating the funding agency. The penalty for it is in the nature of a fine -- the Swarnajayanti Fellowship, which he won before his offence blew up, has been withdrawn.
This penalty appears to fit the offence here; it's far lower than what the 'high crimes' attract. [For example, fabrication and falsification might attract an outright dismissal, while plagiarism is punished with not allowing any student to come anywhere near the culprit.] While he has lost out on getting a grant from DST for some years to come, his right to work with students (as well as to seek funding from other agencies, including private industry) has been left intact.
The Telegraph story talks about how this case has led to a debate among Indian scientists. I don't really get what the 'debate' is really about; maybe it's it's about whether the punishment is appropriate.
If Chakraborty is really guilty as charged, not punishing him would make the funding agency look foolish. I mean, someone cheats you, and you still go ahead and reward him with a Swarnajayanti? WTF?
Chakraborty has been unlucky in that the agency that felt cheated and that which made the Fellowship offer happened to be the same -- DST. The Swarnajayanti might still have been his if it was awarded by a different agency.
Frankly, I'm surprised that DST's project review panel caught Chakraborty on this offence; typically, end-of-project reports get only a cursory look to see if the broad objectives have been met. The scrutiny that's required for catching this sort of offence must have been pretty deep indeed. Either the panel was amazingly effective (very admirable, but unlikely) in its scrutiny, or its members must have had some other reason to subject Chakraborty's project to a higher level of scrutiny.
It looks like this stuff -- the investigation, the verdict and the Swarnajayanti withdrawal -- happened several months ago. Due to lax (or, lack of) disclosure norms, DST hasn't made its decision public. It is this lack of disclosure that makes The Telegraph story read like a major scoop.