Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Problems in Prof. Ashutosh Sharma's I&EC Paper

In his comment, Ankur asks:

... is there a significant overlap between The Student's work and the work of Sharma and First Author? In other words, is the matter only that some lines and some images were lifted verbatim from The Student's thesis or is it more grave: that Sharma and First Author are claiming old research of The Student as new and as their own?

Even to an outsider to the field like me, the answer is "yse" and "a qualified yes". [In the following, I'm not even touching on the plagiarism, which is pretty bad: see for yourself]

A big part of the I&EC paper is about micromolding, which may be thought of as a miniature version of the process that produced the famous Dancing Girl statuette over 4500 years ago. Essentially, you make a mold out of an object (a leaf, in this case) such that holes (or empty spaces) in the mold match the object's features. You then fill the mold with a liquid, wait for it to become solid, and remove the mold -- you now have an exact replica of the original object.

While micromolding has been used widely for preparing surfaces with relatively short, stubby features on them, it had been very difficult to use it for producing surfaces with hairs (long, slender features with a large "aspect ratio") found in certain leaves. My impression is that The Student is among the first (if not the first) to demonstrate the successful use of this technique for making hairy surfaces.

Let's now look at the overlaps between the paper and the thesis: both use leaves from the species Argyreia Nervosa as the starting 'object'; both report the making of the mold -- the negative replica -- with a polymer called PDMS (using similar experimental protocols); both report preparation of hairy surfaces -- the positive replica -- of polystyrene and RF gel (using similar protocols). Both report similar experimental results (scanning electron microscope images, contact angles and sliding angles) on the hairy surfaces.

[To be sure, there are differences too; the most important, to my outsider's eyes, are: (i) the paper talks about a second technique called nano-imprint lithography, (ii) it studied leaves from another species, (iii) it studied hairy surfaces made of glassy carbon (obtained by heating the hell out of the RF gel hairy surface).]

Conclusion: The Student's thesis deserved a citation for (a) having achieved much of what the authors of I&EC paper achieved, but three years ahead of them, (b) developing the protocol for making negative and positive replicas, and (c) reporting a set of results that ought to have been compared and contrasted with those reported in the paper.

(a) and (b) are about priority, and (c) is about decency. They are all about crediting relevant prior work.

Bottomline: In comparison with this serious violation of scientific ethics, the plagiarism (which, by itself, is a serious problem) in the I&EC paper is pretty pale.


  1. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    Thanks explaining this in great detail. The matter is very serious and quite disturbing.