Investigation confirms serious scientific misconduct by IIT Dhanbad faculty

Image duplication in one of the retracted papers. The cancer-cell cultures shown in panels D to I were apparently incubated in the presence ZnO NPs with different concentration.

IIT Dhanbad has completed its investigation into possible scientific misconduct by Dr. Rashmi Madhuri and Dr. Prashant Sharma. The scientific misconduct appears serious and may attract major penalty. Fourteen papers have been retracted and two corrected for image duplication; there are more than two-dozen problematic papers still listed on Pubpeer.

Investigation by a four-member committee formed by Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad to look at possible scientific misconduct by Dr. Rashmi Madhuri and Dr. Prashant Sharma has been completed. “The report prepared by the committee will soon be sent to the Board Chairman for further action,” says Prof. Rajiv Shekhar, Director of IIT Dhanbad. He refused to divulge any details of the report.

Assistant Professor Dr. Madhuri (Department of Applied Chemistry) and Assistant Professor Dr. Sharma (Department of Applied Physics) have 14 papers that have been retracted and two papers corrected for image duplication. The first retraction was in February this year and seven more papers were retracted in March and April 2018. Four more papers were retracted on May 30 this year. About 25 more papers with problematic images have been listed on Pubpeer website, a website that allows users researchers to discuss and review scientific papers that have been published. All the papers have issues with images that have been duplicated in the same or subsequent papers to represent different materials or experiments.

Talking to me on June 1, Prof. Shekhar had said: “Investigation [into this issue] had already started before I came in as the Director in March end. Needless to say that we take such issues very seriously… the board will take a decision depending on the extent of guilt. The investigation will be completed shortly.”

Dr. Madhuri: “It is worth mentioning that it is just a coincidence that most of the articles were published in last 2-3 years, whereas the work is the result of very hard work of our group (which has more than 10 PhD and postgraduate students), in [the] last six years.”

The fact-finding committee, comprising of four members from other reputable institutions in India, had looked at all documents to bring out the facts and prepare a charge sheet against the two faculty members. “No one from the institute [IIT Dhanbad] was part of the committee,” Prof. Shekhar says.

Prof. Shekhar says the scientific misconduct appears serious and may attract major  penalty.

Talking about what entails once the report is sent to the Board Chairman, he says the two faculty members will be served with a charge sheet once the Board approves it. “If they accept the charge sheet then it goes to the Board for a decision on penalty,” he says. “If they don’t accept the charge sheet [contest the charge sheet] then another committee will look at their response [and take a decision].”

“The next Board meeting will be held during September end. The entire investigation will be completed by the end of this year. We wish to complete it as soon as possible,” Prof. Shekhar says.

Rashmi Madhuri’s initial stand:

In early December 2017, Dr. Madhuri had accused scientists posting on Pubpeer as trying to defame her. “They are just posting comments without reading our papers,” she said.

And in email sent to me in mid December 2017, she had said: “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.”

List of retracted papers:

Paper one: Anisotropic Gold Nanoparticle Decorated Magnetopolymersome: An Advanced Nanocarrier for Targeted Photothermal Therapy and Dual-Mode Responsive T1 MRI Imaging.

Paper two: Graphene quantum dots decorated CdS doped graphene oxide sheets in dual action mode: As initiator and platform for designing of nimesulide imprinted polymer.

Paper three: Single cell imprinting on the surface of Ag–ZnO bimetallic nanoparticle modified graphene oxide sheets for targeted detection, removal and photothermal killing of E. Coli. 

Paper four: An imprinted Ag@CdS core shell nanoparticle based optical-electrochemical dual probe for trace level recognition of ferritin.

Paper five: Bimetallic magnetic nanoparticle as a new platform for fabrication of pyridoxine and pyridoxal-5′-phosphate imprinted polymer modified high throughput electrochemical sensor.

Paper six: Multifunctional magnetic reduced graphene oxide dendrites: Synthesis, characterization and their applications.

Paper seven: Anisotropic (spherical/hexagon/cube) silver nanoparticle embedded magnetic carbon nanosphere as platform for designing of tramadol imprinted polymer.

Paper eight: A fluorescent molecularly-imprinted polymer gate with temperature and pH as inputs for detection of alpha-fetoprotein.

Paper nine: Imprinted ZnO nanostructure-based electrochemical sensing of calcitonin: a clinical marker for medullary thyroid carcinoma.

Paper ten: Designing of carbon based fluorescent nanosea-urchin via green-synthesis approach for live cell detection of zinc oxide nanoparticle.

Paper eleven: Removal and Recycling of Precious Rare Earth Element from Wastewater Samples Using Imprinted Magnetic Ordered Mesoporous Carbon.

Paper twelve: Anisotropic Gold Nanoparticle Decorated Magnetopolymersome: An Advanced Nanocarrier for Targeted Photothermal Therapy and Dual-Mode Responsive T1 MRI Imaging.

Paper thirteen: Cow Dung Derived PdNPs@WO3 Porous Carbon Nanodiscs as Trifunctional Catalysts for Design of Zinc–Air Batteries and Overall Water Splitting.

Paper fourteen: Equipment-Free, Single-Step, Rapid, “On-Site” Kit for Visual Detection of Lead Ions in Soil, Water, Bacteria, Live Cells, and Solid Fruits Using Fluorescent Cube-Shaped Nitrogen-Doped Carbon Dots.

Published in The Hindu on August 16, 2018

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