Monday, April 14, 2008

Fraud in Science: Indian edition

T.V. Jayan and G.S. Mudur of the Telegraph have a great article on fraud in Indian science. They cover many different things, including the good work by the Society for Scientific Values in an unfriendly -- if not openly hostile -- environment. Most of the examples they cite are familiar, but their reporting provides a few new details. For example, here's a mea-culpa-of-sorts from R.A. Mashelkar (this story broke February 2007):

In March 2007, Mashelkar admitted in a letter to the SSV that sections of a book he had co-authored on intellectual property rights had reproduced verbatim material from a paper by a British scholar without crediting him. “…I am highly embarrassed by this and I have decided to take some hard actions,” he wrote. He said he would stop further editions of the book and not take any personal gains from it.

Another very interesting news is about the Kundu case:

... [T]he US Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a research paper by Gopal Kundu and his colleagues at Pune’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS). Kundu was accused of using the same data or images relating to proteins in two unconnected articles submitted to the journal. Kundu holds there was “absolutely no wrongdoing” by his team. He says another international journal has accepted the data.

But the authorities are still wary of confronting such accusations. Three committees, for instance, looked into the Kundu affair. A seven-member panel of top scientists exonerated him despite JBC’s withdrawal of the paper. Panel chairman G. Padmanaban says the journal’s decision was not “wrong”, but “harsh”.

Coming from the chairman of the committee that exonerated Kundu and his coworkers, the view that "[JBC's] decision was not 'wrong', but 'harsh'" is quite revealing. In discussing the Kundu case, Jayan and Mudur also have tapped Rahul Siddharthan for his views (Rahul's analysis of figures in the papers by Kundu et al was the clincher for me):

... Rahul Siddharthan, a physicist and computational biologist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, says he stepped into the controversy with “a sense of deep indignation” at the way the committee decided to dispose of the case. He says the duplication — intentional or unintentional — of images is so “blatantly obvious” that he cannot understand how a top scientists’ committee can dismiss the charges.

“There seems to be a mistaken notion that national pride is somehow involved, and this leads to pressure to exonerate or hush up cases,” says Siddharthan.

Finally, we have this:

The growing volume of scientific misconduct has intensified demands for an independent regulatory mechanism to deal with such cases. But Atomic Energy Commission ex-chairman R. Chidambaram, now a top scientific advisor to the government, told the US journal Science in January that the number of cases of scientific misconduct was still too small to justify a “full-time oversight body.”

Jayan and Mudur cite several other views that contradict this strange kind of 'wisdom' from R. Chidambaram. Rahul has an appropriate response on his blog:

I think the essential point, that [Jayan and Mudur] have brought out well, is the reluctance of our scientific establishment to deal with such matters or even acknowledge that they exist. The article quotes R Chidambaram as telling the journal Science that the number of cases of fraud in India is too small to justify a full-time oversight body. I'd say that, taken as a proportion of the research from the country published in top-tier journals (which is pathetically low even compared to other Asian countries), the number of cases in India is probably among the highest in the world -- and it's thanks to the attitude of our science administrators, which is either ostrich-like or deliberately condoning of such things.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I dont quite get it. If Kundu was not wrong, then the journal's decision should have been wrong. In such a case, why label the journal's decision as "harsh" but not "wrong"?

    Or is my black and white eyesight missing out some subtle tints of gray? ;)

  2. Anonymous said...

    Well not directly related to Kundu but came across this misconduct case against Rajput that seems to have led to many famed scientists including Nobel Laureate writing a letter to our ex-President Kalam.