Swaranjit Singh Cameotra, a senior scientist at the Chandigarh-based Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), a CSIR lab, has been removed from service early this month for fabricating data in three papers published in 2013 (April 17, October 1 and October 8) in a scientific journal PLOS ONE. All the three papers were retracted by the journal in July 2014. Data fabrication was found in four more papers where he was the senior author. This is the first time in recent years that CSIR has taken the extreme step of terminating the service of a senior scientist for scientific misconduct. I wrote about the retraction and the subsequent investigation on July 16, 2014.
In a retraction note published in July 2014, the journal said: “The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has carried out an investigation about several publications by this group [led by Dr. Cameotra] in order to evaluate concerns raised about the authenticity of the data. The investigation committee… concluded that there are no data available underlying this study and thus that the published results are fabricated. As a result, [CSIR] has requested the retraction of the publication.”
Dr. Cameotra was a senior scientist at the Environmental Biotechnology and Microbial Biochemistry Laboratory at IMTECH.
“It is not easy to issue a removal order of a government employee. There was a thorough enquiry by 2-3 committees and they found hard evidence… every committee gave a clear-cut decision,” said Prof. R.K. Sinha, who is holding additional charge as the Director of IMTECH. “[Data fabrication] is not expected of a scientist.”
According to Prof. Sinha, Dr. Cameotra has submitted an appeal to the Director-General of CSIR to reconsider the decision. Dr. Cameotra will still be eligible to apply for any other government job.
“It is not easy to issue a removal order of a government employee. There was a thorough enquiry by 2-3 committees and they found hard evidence… every committee gave a clear-cut decision,” Prof. Sinha said. “[Data fabrication] is not expected of a scientist.”
Speaking to me, Dr. Cameotra said tersely: “I have no comments.”
According to sources close to the investigation, Dr. Cameotra had admitted that there was no data to substantiate the claims made in the papers. Though he did not fabricate the data himself, as a senior scientist and senior author of the papers he failed to check if the data were correct, a highly reliable source told me. The level of complicity and scientific misconduct had become clear even at an early stage of the investigation.
“In this case, the system was not found wanting,” said Prof. Sinha referring to other cases where Indian scientists have got away with plagiarism, and data falsification and fabrication.
Data fabrication came to light when Georgia Tech, U.S. (where Fazlurrahman Khan, the first author of the papers worked as a post doctoral fellow) found “similarity and overlapping of data presented in the papers and the work Dr. Khan had done while in the U.S.” A committee formed by IMTECH to investigate the matter found that Dr. Khan was responsible for fabricating the data. Dr. Khan has since resigned from IMTECH.
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