A paper by IIT Dhanbad faculty, which was earlier corrected for four images, has now been retracted as additional concerns have been raised about two more figures. On PubPeer, researchers have raised concerns about 38 papers by Dr. Rashmi Madhuri and Dr. Prashant Sharma for image manipulation and duplication.
A paper published by Dr. Rashmi Madhuri, Assistant Professor at the Department of Applied Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad and Dr. Prashant K. Sharma from the Department of Applied Physics at the same institute in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering has been retracted on February 7, 2018. Dr. Madhuri is the corresponding author of the paper.
The paper “Anisotropic Gold Nanoparticle Decorated Magnetopolymersome: An Advanced Nanocarrier for Targeted Photothermal Therapy and Dual-Mode Responsive T1 MRI Imaging” was published in March 2017.
In August 2017, the same paper carried a correction to replace four transmission electron microscopy images with new images in the same paper. The note by the Editor said that the changes made “did not affect the results and the discussions within the manuscript”.
Correction in the paper
Here is the note by the Editor: “The authors have replaced the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images in Figure 1A−D with new images recorded following the same protocol as described in the article. This discrepancy does not affect the results and the discussions within the manuscript nor the conclusions that were drawn. The authors apologize for any confusion that may have occurred due to this error. The corrected version was published ASAP August 21, 2017.”
But on PubPeer, many readers had raised concerns about the corrected images as well. The person who posted it on PubPeer analysed each image correction and concluded saying: “Evidently these changes were enough to convince the journal’s editors that the paper was legitimate and the original illustrative flaws were an innocent mistake.”
Concerns about 38 other papers where image manipulation and reuse of the same image in a few of their other papers by Dr. Madhuri and Dr. Sharma have been raised on PubPeer.
The retraction notice by the journal refers to only “additional concerns raised” about two other figures in the paper. Here is the full retraction notice: “The Editor retracts this article based on concerns with the microscopy data presented in this published article. In response to a reader’s concern, the authors had replaced TEM images in Figure 1A–D with a corrected version published on August 21, 2017. However, following publication of the corrected version, additional concerns have been raised about Figures 5 and 6. Taken together, these concerns are significant enough to cast doubt on the overall validity of the data presented in this manuscript, not just limited to the specific figures mentioned above and, therefore, the overall conclusions drawn in this paper.”
According to Retraction Watch, the journal editor David Kaplan told them that the journal was “taking another look” at the paper when they first raised the issue with the editor following the outcry at PubPeer by other researchers. Following the retraction, a spokesperson from the American Chemical Society, which publishes the journal, told Retraction Watch: “ACS takes all expressions of concern very seriously. As a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), we follow COPE guidelines to investigate such concerns. This involves following a careful process that takes time. In this case, we followed the appropriate process and acted only after we completed it to ensure the proper action was taken.”
Informed about the retraction
The spokesperson never revealed to Retraction Watch if the authors agreed to the retraction.
About the retraction, Dr. Madhuri tells me: “They sent an email informing us that the paper will be retracted. They did not seek our permission or anything like that. We have not sent them any letter asking for retraction. We had replied to that mail but we have not heard anything from the Editor so far.”
Discussing further Dr. Madhuri says, “We still maintain that the images are genuine. We have provided all raw data. We are not satisfied by the decision made by the Editor. The notice only states that they are retracting the paper due to concerns raised by readers. It does not say our data is wrong.”
“Retracting a paper on the basis of concerns raised by others is not covered by the COPE [The Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines. We have contacted COPE and asked them to look into the issue,” she says.
Email sent to me in December 2017
Speaking to me in early December last year, Dr. Madhuri said the messages posted on PubPeer are fabricated to defame her career. “They are just posting comments without reading our papers,” she said.
In response to my December 16, 2017 email to her wherein I had said that a very senior professor at a reputed institute in India had checked some of her papers listed in PubPeer and had expressed serious concerns, she replied the same day saying: “We would like to mention that all our articles are published in very reputed journals, after a very rigorous and transparent review process, adopted by the concerned journals. The referees and editorial board have approved our work and published them.
“Merely by inspecting the images one cannot draw inferences that are outcome of very carefully designed and performed experiments. Therefore, it is very unscientific to comment that the images are morphed or photo-shopped, whereas all the related data and supporting files are still in possession of authors, which can be crosschecked by competent authorities, if required.”
She then goes on to add: “We are very open to provide any such details… if the intention is something other than scientific, then we are helpless.”
Dr. Madhuri then accuses the people who are targeting them. She says: “We do accept the suggestions of anonymous reviewers during the review process and duly acknowledge the same. But doubting all the data with help of morphed images of published data and announcing the judgement through social media in an aggressive manner is nothing but harassing someone globally through social media, blogs and other cyber platforms [and] must be detested with full vigour as it is a crime. As is evident, the group is targeting us by making nonsense comments that are yet to stop.”
She concludes the mail by saying: “It is worth mention[ing] that it is just a coincidence that most of the articles [have been] published in last two-three years, whereas, the work is the result of very hard work of our group (which has more than 10 Ph.Ds and postgraduate students), in last six years.”