INDIA: Many Scientific Reports Plagiarsed

  • by Ranjit Devraj (new delhi)
  • Inter Press Service

India's scientific community professed shock to see three retraction notices published in the November-December 2010 issue of 'Biotechnology Advances', a prestigious international scientific journal, against three papers presented to it by Indian scientists.

Among the papers retracted is 'Microbial production of dihydroxyacetone' published by Biotechnology Advances (BA) in July-August 2008 and authored by Ruchi Mishra, Seema Rani Jain and Ashok Kumar of the department of biological sciences and bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kanpur.

A group of 16 autonomous engineering and technology institutes IITs are deemed to be of national importance by parliament and are known worldwide for producing highly skilled scientists and engineers.

The reason given by BA for the retraction was that ''the authors have plagiarised part of several papers that had already appeared in several journals'' when ''one of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere.''

BA goes on to say that the ''article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and we apologise to the readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.''

Similar reasons were given for withdrawing 'Molecular imprinting in sol-gel matrix', by Radha Gupta and Ashok Kumar, also of IIT Kanpur, and published by BA in November-December 2008.

In a statement issued Oct. 10, Sanjay Dhande, director of IIT Kanpur, announced that a three-member panel would examine the plagiarism charges and submit a report to the board of governors by Nov. 2.

''We have a serious problem with plagiarism and no institute is ready to acknowledge it,'' said K.L. Chopra, a former director of the IIT at Kharagpur and now president of the Society for Scientific Values, an independent watchdog that boasts membership of 363 of India's leading scientists.

Chopra told IPS that India was only one of several countries, including China, where plagiarism was rampant. ''The difference is that countries like China take stringent action against scientists who get caught.''

At the beginning of the year two Chinese university lecturers were sacked two weeks after the journal 'Acta Crystallographica Section E', published by the International Union of Crystallography, a non-profit, global scientific union, withdrew papers submitted by them on grounds of plagiarism.

In India, Chopra said, the problem was more with the smaller and less well- known institutions whose scientists sent up papers to international journals for publication without proper peer review.

Indeed, a third paper retracted by BA, 'Nanosilver - the burgeoning therapeutic molecule and its green synthesis', was sent up by scientists from the biotechnology department of the relatively obscure Kalasalingam University in southern Tamil Nadu state.

''Scientists are under pressure to publish and too often resort to cut-and- paste from the Internet in the mistaken belief that they are not going to get caught,'' Chopra said. India urgently needs to ''set up a quasi-judicial body which can blacklist or otherwise take action against unethical scientists.''

Chopra said that instances of plagiarism are high in India because the country faced a set of problems peculiar to it. ''India is a poor country with great social disparites, but it also happens to rank among the scientifically and technologically advanced countries.''

He referred to a row over over a report favouring quick commercial release of genetically modified (GM) brinjal (eggplant or aubergine), jointly presented on Sep. 24 to Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment, by six of India's top scientific academies.

Parts of the inter-academy report turned out to be have been copied from a pro-GM paper funded by Monsanto, the United States-based biotechnology giant. .

Ramesh quickly dismissed the report -- by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and National Academy of Sciences -- saying it was ''not a product of rigorous scientific evaluation.'

Compelled to respond to the ministerial rebuke, Mamannamama Vijayan, who coordinated the report, issued a statement on behalf of the academies admitting to the ''inappropriateness'' of copying text without citations or references. He said the report would be reviewed but also that it was ''very unlikely that the recommendations (on GM brinjal) will change.'

''There is a lesson here for the academics,'' said Chopra. ''They may have harmed rather than helped the cause of introducing GM crops in this country with a shoddily produced report.''

The anti-GM lobby quickly seized the advantage. On Oct. 18 a group of 14 non-government organisations jointly petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding that the presidents of the six academies be sacked for demonstrating ''inherent scientific bias that can have a serious impact on the future of Indian science as well as its relevance to the needs of the country.''

The petitioners pointed out that the president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Mangala Raid, is on the board of the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, Research and Marketing which has been ''aggressively pushing GM crop research in India.''

''In an age where science and technology play an important role in socio- economic development, this country needs to encourage excellence and ensure accountability,'' Devinder Sharma, one of the petitioners said. ''India needs to be especially careful since it openly aspires to be a world leader in science and technology.''

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service