Saturday, February 23, 2008

Punishing the plagiarizers and falsifiers

The Chiranjeevi case has been picked up by Indian newspapers.

Sidebar: Here's one more! A couple of weeks ago, Sourangshu Mukhopadhyay, a physics professor at Burdwan University, was accused of plagiarism by Ajoy Ghatak, a professor at IIT-D.

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So, what has Sri Venkateswara University done about Chiranjeevi after determining that he was, in fact, guilty of such serious offences? The Hindu's Gopal Raj reports:

Registrar of the university Y. Venkatarami Reddy told The Hindu that disciplinary action had been taken against Professor Chiranjeevi on the basis of a report from a three-member enquiry commission appointed by the university.

The university’s Executive Council, in September, 2007, banned him from undertaking examination work and research guidance. He was also debarred from securing further promotions as well as being appointed to administrative positions in the university. Students doing M.Phil and Ph.D. under his guidance would be transferred to other guides, Dr. Reddy said.

I think Rahul has the best description of this non-punishment:

Apparently the university is sufficiently concerned to slap the professor concerned severely on the wrist.

Within the past 24 hours, two news reports passed through my Google Reader, and they say something about how plagiarizers have been treated by their universities, both of which are in the US. [Now, Chiranjeevi has been accused of a lot more than plagiarism; I will return to this point below]. The first one is about a professor at Ohio University:

Earlier this month, Roderick J. McDavis, Ohio’s president, for the first time in the institution’s history rescinded the title of “distinguished professor,” a high academic honor that had been given to engineering professor Jay S. Gunasekera years earlier for his research, teaching and service.

Gunasekera is at the center of the controversy, the subject of charges that he both plagiarized a graduate student’s work in a published book, and failed to adequately monitor graduate students who went on to copy others’ material in theses they submitted under his watch. ...

Gunasekera was chair of the department at the time the allegations surfaced. He was removed from that position, and also had a named professorship taken away. This year, he’s on assignment and not teaching or advising students.

The second one is a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College:

Columbia University’s Teachers College will not dismiss Madonna G. Constantine, the professor it charged with plagiarizing numerous works by another professor and two former students.

The college said on Wednesday that it had penalized her, but declined to discuss how. But on Thursday, Marcia Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the college, said the action stopped short of Dr. Constantine’s firing.

So, plagiarizers don't lose their jobs; they receive a public reprimand, and perhaps a demotion. But, as I said, Chiranjeevi has been accused of other crimes that are a lot more serious than plagiarism: fabrication and falsification. How are fabricators and falsifiers punished elsewhere? Again, some examples are useful.

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Elizabeth Goodwin resigned (while maintaining her innocence; she was accused of falsification of data). A professor at the University of Vermont went to jail for using falsified data in a grant application. And we all know what happened to Jan Hendrik Schön and Hwang Woo Suk, don't we?

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All of this brings me back to the one person who has remained untouched by any official, public reprimand by any of the organizations -- including the Science Academies -- he belonged to when he committed plagiarism: R. A. Mashelkar. In case you are wondering, it has been nearly a year since this scandal broke.



  1. Dilip Rao said...

    The government itself sets a bad example. You should read Planning Commission reports. Some of their material is plagiarized from working papers and reports from international institutions such as the World Bank. I am not sure these are inadvertent omissions or deliberately done to avoid criticism - after all, the government may not want to be accused of toeing the World Bank's line especially with the Communists supporting the government.