‘Copy and paste’ content spotted in IISER Thiruvananthapuram director’s papers

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There is 68% similarity in content between this 2014 paper of Prof. Ramakrishnan and other papers.

Over 50 papers published between 1984 and 2014 by Prof. V. Ramakrishnan, formerly with the School of Physics, Madurai Kamaraj University and currently the Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Thiruvananthapuram have varying degrees of content taken verbatim from or have very close similarity with other previously published papers. Large chunks of text have been reproduced verbatim from other papers and the sources have not been cited. In many instances where the sources have been cited, the content has been reproduced verbatim without paraphrasing.

In nearly 15 papers, where Prof. Ramakrishnan is the corresponding author, the extent of text similarity with earlier published papers (technically called similarity index) is as high as 60% and greater. At 68%, a paper published online in May 2014 in the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy has the highest similarity index.

An anonymous person has posted this paper on Pubpeer.com and highlighted the content that has been taken verbatim from other papers.

Most of the papers which have portions that are very similar to other papers have been published in the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy and the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy. Most of the papers have been published from Madurai Kamaraj University, where he was a Professor in Physics before joining IISER Thiruvananthapuram.

The Turnitin software that was used indicates text similarity by stating the percentage of similarity index. For several reasons, the “similarity index cannot be used as an indicator of whether plagiarism has occurred or not” when Turnitin software is used.

Five papers scrutinised 

So to ascertain if the similarity in content amounts to plagiarism, five papers, where Prof. Ramakrishnan is the corresponding author, were randomly chosen for closer scrutiny. These papers were published between 2003 and 2015. Three of these papers (here, here and here) were published in the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy and the other two (here and here) were published in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy.

According to a scientist very familiar with scientific ethics and who cross-checked the five papers for plagiarism, one paper contains substantial verbatim use of material from papers by other authors without citing the sources. And where the sources of have been cited, the content has been reproduced verbatim without paraphrasing. The other papers have substantial verbatim use of material from their earlier published papers, technically called self-plagiarism.

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Comment in Pubpeer

Responding to the paper posted in Pubpeer.com, an anonymous person says: “I am based in the U.S. and usually look at Pubpeer once a month or so. Out of curiosity had a look at this one, and tried to look at both original papers and found exactly what the submitter has claimed, at least with one section. My comparison is pasted below. There are many highlighted sections, obvious from the rainbow colours. I don’t have time to verify this. May be the ctrl-copy, ctrl-paste business has gone into the results too, then the question is are the experiments really carried out or everything is fake?

The possible way forward are the following:

  1. Notify the sponsoring agency of this research
  2. Notify the University where this work was done
  3. Notify both journals and the senior author of Bilge et al 2009 paper
  4. Put other papers under scrutiny, if this is done once it must be a mistake done by the first author, but if it has happened across many papers, then the corresponding author has to take the responsibility.

Seems to be a major case of scientific fraud, maybe this person is in some obscure university in India, still one has to behave responsibly.”

“Even with citing (attribution), the source text must be used with quotes. Doing otherwise is misconduct as it is not clear that the entire text comes from the cited source. Even paraphrasing extensively even with references is not good practice,” another senior scientist from Delhi says in an email.

Self-plagiarism

Plagiarised content is found in the introduction section in the first paper. Unfortunately, it does not stop here — plagiarism extends to the experimental section and even to the results and discussion sections. The same trend is seen in the papers where self-plagiarism is rampant.

“There are two issues here — plagiarism from other authors’ work and self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism in the introductory section is somewhat acceptable because scientific background underlying any author’s work is going to be largely similar. However, self-plagiarism in the results and discussion section is not acceptable at all because it is tantamount to cloning one’s own paper again and again ad nauseum so that it appears that the person has authored a very large number of papers. This is exactly what is prevailing in the present case,” a senior chemist from a reputed institute in India, who cross-checked all the five papers against the original papers, says in an email.

Modus operandi

“It is cleverly done and different sections from different papers are stitched together. All the chemical systems in all the papers are very similar. It seems they just repeated the same kind of experiments with another sample, so the story goes the same way. The way in which the problem is formulated, the experimental details, the results, the discussion and the conclusions are identical,” says the chemist.

“Simple ‘copy and paste’ actually worked very well for him because he did not have to write anything new for his paper as his results had nothing new compared to the literature. You can generally expect this when the work in question is of the lowest standard and all the results would give the same conclusions (similar to the literature or his earlier papers). So I think he just had to change the names of the compounds and some other details, but rest is mostly the same from one paper to other of his own or that of literature work,” the senior chemist adds.

Denies wrongdoing

In a couple of emails to me, Prof. Ramakrishnan says: “Most of our experimental research publications include an amount of history and review of earlier research findings in the same area. All our supporting data are duly acknowledged and the source cited in the reference. Therefore, the question of plagiarism does not arise. As you have pointed out that from 1984 they have been in the public domain and so far no reviewer has pointed out that either our group has copied or stolen from others scientific data.”

On his request, two of the five papers (including the paper published online in May 2014 (see slide show) in the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy) and the original papers from where he had plagiarised were sent to him; the plagiarised portions were highlighted in his papers and the original papers. In response, he denies any wrongdoing saying: “The highlighted portion of the attached documents sent by you (markings on reprint of our works) shows the name of journal, author, affiliation, mobile number, email [address] etc as plagiarised one.” He then goes on to say: “Your basis of conclusion is scientifically baseless and ridiculous. In view of the same, it is evident that you have deliberately adopted the quantification contrary to the research methodology adopted by the scientific community.”

RELATED ARTICLE:

IISER Thiruvananthapuram Director: There’s more to it than meets the eye

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8 Comments

  1. Percentage of similarity index cannot be considered as a tool to conclude plagiarism. As long as it has been cited with references, how would you call it as plagiarism?

    Reply

    1. Of course, percentage of similarity cannot be taken for plagiarism. And I have said that in my article. But what you see in the five papers is that similarity IS plagiarism as the sources have not been cited. Where you think the sources have been cited, they are actually references quoted by the original source. None of the papers has quoted the original source from where the text has been taken. And even when you cite the source, you cannot reproduce the content verbatim. Either you are new to science and publishing or ignoring the facts. Please see the slideshow to under it better.

      Reply

  2. This is one of the reasons for not getting respect for Indian research in the world. One bad example remembered for years and years of good work goes in vain. The Government of India and academic bodies should put a check on these ” cut n Paste” practices and terminate the offenders from their position if found guilty.

    Reply

  3. These kind of people don’t deserve to be in research. What direction have they given to research. They are doing all this nonsense just for publications. This is inexcusable.

    Reply

  4. It’s a shame that teachers from premier education institutions are doing this. This is what students will learn under them, this is what happens to scientific progress and purity under them. Sad.

    Reply

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