Saturday, November 14, 2009

L'Affaire Ayyadurai: Was CSIR wrong to hire a 'foreigner'?

Before I get to that question, let me first link to this post by Rahul Siddharthan, who has linked to Ayyadurai's website. Here's an excerpt from near the end of his post:

... [M]aybe he was already told not to expect to be hired in a permanent position, and his report was his way of venting his grievance at the CSIR DG. Which makes it even more unprofessional. Regardless of the truth or otherwise in his observations, I don't think the report will now be taken seriously, nor should it be.

But that shouldn't detract from two key issues. First, exactly what sort of position was Shiva hired under in the first place, why, and what was his mandate? Second, the need to reform and streamline CSIR remains: what does the DG plan to do in this regard? I suspect the CSIR DG made a mistake (caused by over-eagerness to "get things done") in hiring V A Shiva, and knows it; he should now make amends -- first, by coming clean on exactly what happened; and second, by making sure the need for reforming and modernising CSIR is not sidetracked.

Let me now turn to the question in this post's title. It's triggered by this column (free registration required) in Nature - India by Prof. Gautam Desiraju (who, btw, is now a colleague at IISc -- he moved from the University of Hyderabad recently).

Desiraju frames the issue as one of hiring an outsider -- and more specifically, a "foreigner":

There is no dearth of qualified and highly successful scientists with long and enriching careers in India. CSIR itself has many such scientists. Some of them have obtained PhD degrees from prominent universities abroad and have significant collaborations with respected scientists from around the globe.

Most of these scientists are also well aware of the ground realities in India, meaning they harbour realistic expectations of what may or may not be achieved in India. In short, there is no shortage of hard headed, knowledgeable and practical Indian scientists who have lived and worked in India.

The thought that prominent research organisations feel the need to turn to foreign shores to find 'leadership' for their rudderless bodies is anachronistic. This can hardly be a colonial hang-up: not after 62 years.

Now, it's possible that Prof. Samir Brahmachari, DG, CSIR, hired Shiva Ayyadurai in spite of the availability of a more capable CSIR insider. While we don't know much about why Ayyadurai was hired, what we do know is that he turned out to be a bad bet -- however, we know this only after his report blew up so spectacularly in Brahmachari's face.

But, isn't it too much of a stretch to cite what is essentially a case of hiring FAIL as evidence to oppose -- or, to erect nationalist barriers to -- hiring of outsiders?

Unfortunately for Desiraju, he undermines his own case with the last paragraph:

The rot has set in deep within CSIR and elsewhere. Cosmetic changes here and there would be like dusting rouge on a corpse. In the end, we run the grave risk of perishing.


Didn't he start this line of argument with how CSIR is swarming with "qualified and highly successful scientists with long and enriching careers in India"? How, then, does this mighty CSIR morph, in just a couple of paragraphs, into a "corpse" in which "the rot has set in deep"?


  1. Swapan K Das said...

    2005 to 2009 History repeated in just 4 year interval: Dictatorial administration of CSIR performed its second hunt.
    I extend my compassion to Dr Shiva Ayyadurai and also thank him for being the whistleblower. To the best of my knowledge he is the second prey of the dictatorial leadership of CSIR, because I am the first person that I know who was guillotined by current DG CSIR. Every one in the Institute of Genomics and Integrative biology (IGIB) are fully aware about the incident associated with my resignation from CSIR, but I was unable to inform that incident to a higher authority, including PM or the science minister of India.

    I was selected (28thJanuary, 2004) for a position of Scientist “C” [Gr. IV(2)] at IGIB (CSIR) based solely on my application without any interview (in absentia). I joined IGIB on 29th July, 2004. I finally resigned from my position on 6th October, 2005. Dr Samir Brahmachari was the Director of IGIB during this period. Chronology of events in these 15 months of my working period in IGIB is still a hair raising scary dream for me. I am currently very busy and have no time to describe entire incident in detail. I have all official documents in my possession which support these facts.

    In brief, every thing started when I published a scientific electronic letter to editor in criticism of an article published by one of my IGIB colleague at Molecular and Cellular Proteomics on 29th June, 2005 (
    I received an office memorandum (OM) on same date stating that “..despite possessing necessary scientific grasp and knowledge of the subject, has not been able to work satisfactorily in a group and develop team spirit as expected from a scientist of his level and expertise...” . My relation with director and scientists of his inner circle soured after that on several instances. Insurmountable social pressure was created. I was just unable to surrender myself to a dictatorial administration. Finally I received another OM on 9th July 2009 which extended my official probation period for another six months showing the reason that “..Dr. Das has not been able to mould himself to work in a group..”. Paradoxically in my 15 month work period I was able to publish eight research article in journals like Biological Psychiatry to Genome research and in all of them my IGIB colleagues are PI or corresponding author (3 with Dr S. Brahmachari, 2 with Dr. S. Sengupta, 1 with Dr HR Das and 2 with Dr S Choudhury), which clearly indicates my team spirit and collegial nature of research. In protest of that last OM I submitted my resignation letter on 17th August, 2005. Finally I returned back to USA on November 2005 as an assistant professor with the help of my post doctoral mentor Prof. Steven Elbein.

    As some one wrote, CSIR administration is unable to heed any good advice coming from some one younger than them. Work environment in CSIR institutes in most cases are dictatorial and really repeals productive scientists with a strong backbone and descent sense of morality and honesty. In CSIR you need to keep your mouth shut, no positive or negative criticism is acceptable to administration. However, CSIR have many good productive scientists even in this foul work environment including my personal favorites Dr Lalji Singh et al (CCMB) and Dr GPS Raghav et al (IMTECH). I love my country from deepest core of my heart and I respect those exceptional CSIR scientists.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I still dont understand what is the controversy abt. Was it Ayyadurai's sloppy/unprofessional language in a report on the institutional barriers to progress in CSIR which I guess prob lay the blame too much on upper mgmt ? What was his mandate in being hired laterally to a non-scientific post at the top level ? Btw Prof. Desiraju is himself critical so is it that Indian academicians are more sensitive to "foreign" rather than "local" criticism

  3. Anonymous said...

    Btw "hiring failure" needs clarification ? What (non-scientific) performance metrics of the top post was not met ? Was there any inter-personal issue involved in which case I can understand chucking out a person inconsistent with the organization.

  4. Anonymous said...

    But criticism and debate cant be a reason for ouster after all scientific progress is sometimes based on those values. So CSIR has to first state its version and take on the controversy before one can pass any judgment.

  5. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    We as a nation are significantly idealistic and do not accept that there exist egoistic, dictatorial and self-obsessed people even at the heights of scientific achievement. This is the reason why the reaction to the entire Ayyadurai affair is one of shock and disgust. If a similar incident happened with someone settled in the US, they would not even dare complain about dictatorial nature of leadership, for there, one treats his life as a business, and is expected to opportunistically go with the flow.

    My point behind saying the above is the following: the fiasco (or lack thereof) of hiring Ayyadurai or whether Brahmachari is a 'model leader' or not, need not lead one to the demonization of CSIR. Inability of an organisation to uphold the highest values we expect of it does not imply its demise.

  6. Anonymous said...

    You have so much to talk about Shiva but not a word about CSIR DG Brahmachari. Interesting in deed :-)

  7. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Swapan -- regardless of the merits of your case, you are the first I have seen to criticise Prof S K Brahmachari and the CSIR management non-anonymously on specific grounds. Kudos for not hiding behind anonymity.

    Unfortunately, I think the sort of thing you describe happens to junior scientists all over the world, especially in the biological sciences. Consider Jeffrey Friedman's widely-reported treatment of his colleagues, students and lab assistants.

    In your case it should be noted that the accusation of non-collegiality is rather vague and not easy to prove or disprove (co-authoring papers with colleagues has nothing to do with it). But if many more people have had the same experience, I hope they speak out too.

    anonymous 3:55 and others: we are talking about Shiva because, I suppose, we only know what he's been telling us. But certainly the CSIR and its DG should respond.

  8. Anonymous said...

    Just CSIR labs collaborate with IIXs? In my (US) grad school days, I remember several of my colleagues interacting with the national labs here. Is there something similar in India?

    If yes, what opinion do IIX faculty/researchers have of CSIR labs? Would you say that what is being described by SA are true to a certain extent?

  9. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    :-) For the anonymous above: I think *everything* that one can say is true about Indian institutions to a certain extent.

  10. Rahul Basu said...

    With regard to Desiraju's statement: indeed India has many capable scientists who could be entrusted to review an organisation. And in fact it is done. We recently had a review committee for the institute which had a mixture of foreign and Indian 'experts'.

    The point about foreign experts is not just a colonial hangover (though there could be elements of that too). In general even competent distinguished scientists in India hesitate to take on the system and directly or indirectly criticise their other senior friends and colleagues who might be the head or senior member of the organisation they are evaluating. How will you show your face to the poor guy when you both sit on some committee at some later date?
    The net result is frequently a white wash with some vague remarks passed but no hard hitting comments. A foreigner, particularly one who has little to do with the organisation has no such hang ups and can be far more blunt than a similarly placed Indian colleague. I have seen this in more than one review committee and this in fact should be the main reason for choosing a non-Indian.

  11. Anant said...

    I would like to submit humbly that while what Rahul Basu says above is true, it is equally true that members on committees are equally not forthcoming in praising positive features, especially if it is not about those who are favoured members of the same (rotten?) establishment.

  12. Anonymous said...

    Maybe Ayyadurai is not as smart as his website posits him to be. My guess is that he was hired as a "management guru" to make some powerpoint slides about how great CSIR really is and how it is a powerhouse (think of the overtly patriotic email forwards that originate in Infosys), with tons of boilerplate jargon like "knowledge-driven vertical growth" and "research paradigms for nano-integration" that could be used for press releases. Instead of delivering such feel-good shit as he was hired to, he foolishly took his job seriously, and called a spade a spade. How the hell did he pass those 4 courses at MIT?

  13. Thinking Of Returning said...

    Ankur Said:
    We as a nation are significantly idealistic and do not accept that there exist egoistic, dictatorial and self-obsessed people even at the heights of scientific achievement. This is the reason why the reaction to the entire Ayyadurai affair is one of shock and disgust. If a similar incident happened with someone settled in the US, they would not even dare complain about dictatorial nature of leadership, for there, one treats his life as a business, and is expected to opportunistically go with the flow.

    My point behind saying the above is the following: the fiasco (or lack thereof) of hiring Ayyadurai or whether Brahmachari is a 'model leader' or not, need not lead one to the demonization of CSIR. Inability of an organisation to uphold the highest values we expect of it does not imply its demise.

    #You have hit the nail right on the head. There are mean, vicious, scheming, sadistic ....(insert adjectives here) professors in all the top universities in US. In fact it is harder to find a decent person to do a PhD with than to get stuck with an egoistic asshole who will make your life miserable.

  14. Anonymous said...

    Dr Brahmachari is single-handedly responsible for spoiling the careers of a large number of brilliant researchers, who were subsequently forced to either leave country or leave the research field itself. You have read just one story here but those who know him well will know this this is just one amongst many. His sole aim is glamorized prostitution of science to extract hard earned tax money of middle class workers, use that to buy costly scientific machines and infrastructure worth crores and rupees, and of course pocket a major share in that transaction.

    It is a shame that such a person is sitting on the post of DG CSIR. He is the biggest obstacle in the progress of science in india. Now since the reality has come out, or is beginning to come out, the government should take serious action by not only removing him of his post but by ordering a probe into all controversial financial deals at CSIR during his tenure.

  15. Dwaipayan said...

    After seeing this blog by Dr. Swapan Kumar Das in this Ayyadurai-CSIR episode, I am unable to refrain from commenting. I am not an ardent fan of Dr. Brahmachari, DG, CSIR and on many occasions I have had loud altercations with him because I do not agree to many of his views. I do not know Shiva Ayyadurai and what happened between him and CSIR in detail. But, I think I know Dr. Brahmachari fairly well as he recruited me in IGIB and I know Dr. Swapan Kumar Das as my colleague during his brief tenure at IGIB. According to me what Swapan wrote is just atrocious, one sided and opportunistic. Firstly, his case is no way similar to Ayyadurrai’story as he was a permanent employee of CSIR. I am the corresponding author of that fateful MCP paper. We have a “Metabolic Biology group” in IGIB and Swapan was one of the members of that group and we had presented the data in the paper point by point, several times in the journal club before publishing. Before submitting that paper we took all the suggestions given by the group but Swapan never indicated that he had any serious concerns about the paper. But, after the publication of that paper Swapan came to me and asked the raw data without stating his intensions and we obliged him by giving all of our raw data. Then we got a letter from the editor who asked us to write our reply to Swapan’s letter. I am sure you have now a fair idea of Swapan’s ethics. I am sure all of my metabolic biology group members (Dr. S. Sengupta, Dr. Malabika Dutta, Dr. Abhay Sharma, etc) will vouch for this. Also if you see global perspective tell me how many times you see that your next door colleague and journal club member is writing a letter to editor against your paper, without walking next door to discuss. For experts, I would like to point out that the paper has been independently cited 5 times in recent years and we believe our hypothesis emphasizing on rare variants is ahead of time (Anybody can visit the MCP site to see our rebuttal).. I have no intention to doubt Swapan’s professional capabilities but personally I believe those capabilities have never been fully demonstrated since he is still to write a paper as corresponding author. During the time when MCP was in review, the reviewers asked us to perform minimal statistical tests which we did by ourselves not involving himthough many researchers in the institute were taking help of his capabilities. So he was furious. Now regarding his claim that he published 8 research articles with IGIB colleagues, I can say he was actually doing a plumbing job because he had access to better technology. At that time we did not have access to SPSS (a widely used statistical package) and Swapan’s laptop had one copied version (from University of Arkansas) of SPSS and Swapan statistically analyzed everybody’s data. I was one of the very few who did not take his help

  16. Dwaipayan said...


    Now comes his comment on his strong backbone. I vividly remember in one faculty meeting Dr. Brahmachari asked him whether he would like to have an independent lab. It is pertinent to mention that Dr. Brahmachari always likes to give independent charge to younger colleagues. But, Swapan refused and remarked that he still does not have the maturity to handle students independently and he prefers to work with Dr. Brahmachari. It was pretty obvious that he thought rightly that his association with Director will help him to overcome hurdles easily. I think he is simply opportunistic and a lesser mortal. He has had ample opportunities to sell his story in many places which did anonymously and in bad taste. On August 1st, 2006 he send an e-mail to Dr. Narkunaraja masquerading as ScienceWatch India discouraging him to join IGIB stating he will face grave danger from not only Dr. Brahmachari but from his “SLAVE Dr. Dwaipayan Bharadwaj”. After his departure from IGIB, which still I feel was unfortunate, he literally begged to Dr. Brahmachari, from USA, for free registration and lodging in HUGO-2008 and Dr. Brahmachari immediately obliged. Here is another instance of his childish(???)/ unethical behaviour. Well after the MCP episode, Swapan while co-guiding one of Dr. Brahmachari’s students, send a manuscript to MCP without telling Dr. Brahmachari- Yasha’s primary mentor. I hope you all can now see that Swapan’s story is totally fabricated and self-destructive.

    Thepresent episode is very unfortunate. When working closely with Dr. Brahmachari I learnt a lot. I love his out of the box thinking as I am a bohemian myself. I think Dr. Brahmachari’s Achilles heel is his immense trust on people and he trusts easily. Shiva is a perfect example to that. If Dr. Brahmachari trusts someone he will not break it and some people are all the time riding on that trust. He fails to learn from repeated let downs and continues to place his trust on couple of associates with vested interests. But, I am sure that this episode will bring him to reality that it is worthwhile making sure a person is trustworthy before trusting him or her.

  17. Swapan Kumar Das said...

    Dr Dwaipayan Bharawdaj (DB) is one of my ex colleague of IGIB. He have not spent a single word about dictatorial administration of CSIR but directly attacked my comments. I believe his unsubstantiated allegations needs some reply and I am doing it point by point.
    DB: “Swapan never indicated..about the paper.”
    My reply: Dr Bharadwaj can claim anything now. He doesn’t have any proof. Actual fact is he is very arrogant and one such scientist who thinks that “he knows all”. I presented my views in journal club but he completely disregarded that and bullied me as I am junior to him. He even fought with other PhD students when they criticized and asked questions on the research work in the journal club.
    DB: “Swapan came to me and asked..all of our raw data.”
    My reply: Letter to editor written by me is based on online supplemental data that can be downloaded freely from MCP journal’s website: ( Any one wish to get that raw data can download and analyze.
    DB: “I have no intention to doubt Swapan’s professional..paper as corresponding author.”
    My reply: DB always tries to undermine others. I have published a few peer reviewed research articles as corresponding author as well as single author even from my PhD days. Few such examples are:
    1: Das SK, Chu WS, Mondal AK, Sharma NK, Kern PA, Rasouli N, Elbein SC. Effect of pioglitazone treatment on endoplasmic reticulum stress response in human adipose and in palmitate-induced stress in human liver and adipose cell lines. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Aug;295(2):E393-400. PMID: 18544642.
    2: Das SK, Sharma NK, Chu WS, Wang H, Elbein SC. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (ARNT) gene as a positional and functional candidate for type 2 diabetes and prediabetic intermediate traits: Mutation detection, case-control studies, and gene expression analysis. BMC Med Genet. 2008 Mar 17;9:16. PubMed PMID: 18366646
    3: Das SK, Talukder G. A review on the origin and spread of deleterious mutants of the beta-globin gene in Indian populations. Homo. 2001;52(2):93-109. Review. PubMed PMID: 11802568.
    DB: “I can say he ..a plumbing job.. technology.”
    My reply: I never asked my colleagues for giving me plumbing job. Good science requires exchange of scientific skill, knowledge and ideas. My co-works trusted me asked me to help and I helped them in scientific and collegial spirit. DB probably has no idea about difference between science and plumbing. So, he decided to keep his house (read research work) unplumbed(read flawed).

    DB: “Dr. Brahmachari asked ..independently and he prefers to work with Dr. Brahmachari.”
    My reply: DB can make any story without any hard evidence. The fact is, I wrote and presented my independent project in Research council meeting of IGIB. Dr. Brahmachri prevented me to submit that project and asked me to give that project to DB for submission. All such instructions from Dr. Brahmachari for obvious reason were verbal. So, I don’t have any hard document to support it. But I have that project.
    DB: “On August 1st, 2006 he send an e-mail to ..discouraging him to join IGIB”
    My reply: Again a fabricated story without any hard evidence. Who is Dr Narkunaraja by the way? He is not in the IGIB faculty list.
    DB: “he literally begged to Dr. Brahmachari, HUGO-2008 and Dr. Brahmachari immediately obliged.”
    My reply: Another fabricated story from DB. My all communication was with Ms. Cathy Pole of HUGO international office, London. I paid 275 British pounds as registration fee for HGM2008. I have copy of the receipt. In HGM1999 at Brisbane my registration was completely waived.
    DB: “Swapan while co-guiding..primary mentor.”
    My reply: I took written permission from PME section of IGIB before submission. I have signed copy. That work was designed independently by me.
    DB: "When working closely with Dr. Brahmachari.. he trusts easily."
    My reply: These statements clearly shows that DB is noting but a sycophant of Dr. Brahmachari.

  18. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    Humble request to Dwaipayan: please don't reply to this. You have a chance to end this dirty-linen washing session.

  19. Anonymous said...

    Hi Swapan, there are too many people who know what you have been ranting is nothing but a frustated guy's outpouring rather than fact. This trick simply would not work here ..

  20. Anonymous said...

    Dear Anonymous 19,
    Why you are hiding behind anonymity if you know the fact? Maybe you are one of the opportunist sycophants of dictatorial CSIR administration. Swapan told that he have all official documents to support his comments. Do you have any to put on our table? Some people like you support dictators in Indian science and all creative and protesting people area a frustrated delirious person to you.

  21. Anonymous said...

    Anon 20
    I have known Swapan Das before he joined IGIB. I have a number of documents with me too, but not for sure to be put in public. I have not ethically degraded to that level. Well what is that you have against CSIR Anon ?

  22. Anonymous said...

    In Nature [9 November 2009 | Nature 462, 152 (2009)] Pushpa Bhargava, founder director of the CSIR's Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) said about Shiva Ayyadurai controversy that "I have seen many cases of vindictiveness in the CSIR, but this is the worst," and "Ayyadurai's report tells the truth about how the CSIR is being run today. The fact that CSIR administration is impervious to healthy and fair criticism is bound to send the wrong message not only to expatriates but also [to scientists] within the country."
    Bhargava, has also written a letter to Prime Minister of India supporting Ayyadurai.

    Form this blog I am now sure that many such cases of vindictive act by DG CSIR exist and that need to be exposed to the public.

  23. Anonymous said...

    Pushpa Bharghava (We all know him as a good scientist and founder of CCMB, but off late, for controversy) has taken the job of creating controversy or what ?