Friday, April 27, 2018

Meredith Wadman on Sexual harassment charges against Inder Verma

From this explosive, deeply reported story in Science [which should be applauded, I think, for not paywalling the story]:

In reports stretching from 1976 to 2016, women allege, variously, that he grabbed their breasts, pinched their buttocks, forcibly kissed them, propositioned them, and repeatedly commented on their physical attributes in professional settings. The allegations come from a Salk lab technician, a postdoctoral researcher, other Salk staffers and faculty, and women outside of the institute, including a potential faculty recruit.

Five women in their 50s and 60s in secure scientific positions agreed to be named in this story. Three younger women requested anonymity, fearing repercussions to their careers. They cited Verma’s power at Salk and the reach of his influence, including his connections to Nobel laureates, National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer-review committees, and journal editorial boards.

Last Saturday, Wadman also reported that Verma was asked to go on administrative leave by the Salk Institute. Here's an extract from Salk's announcement:

We have also learned that Science is preparing a story about Dr. Verma and related allegations. Earlier this week, the reporter presented the Institute with information about her story that included claims the Institute was not previously aware of. We take these allegations very seriously and have expanded the scope of the investigation.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A student's FB post on scientific misconduct in her lab

There are several updates, which appear at the end of the post.

* * *

Read this post (on FB) by Jayita Barua from a week ago. After reading her post, keep a copy for your own record -- just in case her FB post is taken down.

The magnitude of the misconduct in Barua's post is mind-boggling, and the frank way in which she talks about the mental trauma caused by the toxic environment in her lab is truly moving.

It is very brave of Barua to have come out and said all this in an open forum. I hope she will get all the support she needs. From my distance, the least I can do is to spread the word.

I know nothing about Barua's background -- not even the college and the research group she was in, and I stay away from FB. Which means that I am not aware of any follow-up action at her college / university. If you know of any, please leave a comment.

[Thanks to a friend who forwarded it.]

* * *

Update 1 (1 May 2018): G. Mudur of The Telegraph has a story on this case, triggered by Barua's post: CU teacher under data fraud scanner. This story appears in the Metro section, implying that the editors decided that this is of interest primarily to the residents of their home ground, Kolkata.

We learn two things: (a) Calcutta University has formed a two-member inquiry committee to probe this case, and (b) Dr. Anindita Ukil, Barua's PhD adviser, denies having committed any fraud or misconduct. A key quote:

Ukil said Barua was not a regular National Eligibility Test-qualified scholar who earned her own fellowship as most others in her laboratory, but was dependent on a project-based salary.

"She was in our lab for four years and participated enthusiastically in all our activities. She has raised this issue now - after being told earlier this month that she could not be provided any new project fellowship," Ukil said. "Why she has done this is beyond my understanding."

* * *

Update 1a (A little later on 1 May 2018): Barua has an FB post in which she rubbishes Ukil's (implied) suggestion that the impending loss the scholarship might have been the reason behind Barua's allegations.

* * *

Update 2 (2 May 2018): I am a little late to post this, but Nature India too has covered this case (in fact, this story was done even earlier than the one in The Telegraph). In their story, Biplab Das and Subhra Priyadarshini report that:

Barua's PhD guide Anindita Ukil, an assistant professor in the department, denied having forged data or being involved in any kind of scientific misconduct. “All these allegations are entirely false,” Ukil told Nature India over phone. “I have already informed the authorities of the Calcutta University and the matter is under scrutiny,” she said.Barua said she had also informed Prasanta Kumar Bag, head of biochemistry department of the University, and funding authorities – the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Biotechnology – about years of wrongdoing at the lab. Contacted, Bag also refrained from commenting saying that the issue was "under scrutiny by higher authorities".