Two dozen papers by IIT Dhanbad faculty retracted so far, many more still under a cloud


Rashmi Madhuri and Prashant Sharma, Assistant Professors at IIT Dhanbad, have so far collected over 24 retractions. And many more papers with similar problem of image duplication have been listed on Pubpeer website. The investigation by the institute is still under way and will probably be completed by March-April 2019.

Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad has become famous across the world for all the wrong reasons. With 24 and 26 retractions in one year, Dr. Rashmi Madhuri and Dr. Prashant Sharma, who are Assistant Professors at the Institute and coauthors in 40-odd papers, have the most retractions among researchers in India.

A few days back, nine more papers were retracted for the same reason as the earlier ones — duplication of images and passing them off as different materials/experiments. Another paper was retracted in October 2018. The first paper by the duo was retracted in February this year, followed by seven more retractions in March and April 2018. Four more papers were retracted the very next month. There are still over a dozen problematic papers listed on Pubpeer website, which allows users to discuss and review scientific papers that have been published.

The nine papers that were retracted a few days ago were published in RSC Advances (three papers), and one each appeared in Journal of Materials Chemistry AJournal of Materials Chemistry B, Journal of Materials Chemistry CBiomaterials Science, Chemical Engineering Journal. Another paper in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces was retracted in October 2018 and the paper in Chemical Engineering Journal was retracted in March 2018.

The Royal Society of Chemistry, which publishes the journals that recently retracted the nine papers, told Retraction Watch: “The decision to retract is opposed by the authors, all of whom were contacted during the investigation process.

“Our investigations concluded that in nine papers it was apparent that the data and conclusions could no longer be relied upon due to inappropriate altering of images and duplication of data, which have been presented in a number of journals, including with other publishers.”

Retraction note

The retraction note published for all the papers reads like the one published by the journal Biomaterials Science. It says: “The Royal Society of Chemistry hereby wholly retracts this Biomaterials Science article due to concerns with the reliability of the data in the published article.

“The zeta potential plot data in Fig. 3B duplicates data presented in other publications that were reported as different materials.

“The TEM image in Fig. 3D has been used in another publication representing a different material.

“Identical confocal fluorescence images have been used to represent different samples in Fig. 6.

“The critical aggregation concentration data presented in Fig. S6 duplicates data presented in other publications that were reported as different materials.

“Given the number and significance of the concerns, the validity of the data and, therefore, the conclusions presented in this paper are no longer reliable.”

Investigation by IIT Dhanbad

In August, Prof. Rajiv Shekhar, Director of IIT Dhanbad told me that the investigation into possible scientific misconduct by a four-member fact-finding committee formed by the institute was completed. He had then said that the scientific misconduct appears serious and may attract major penalty. According to him, the report would be sent to the Board, which was supposed to meet in September end.

“The investigation is still on and will probably be completed by March-April [2019]. We are following due process,” says Prof. Shekhar.

Retracted papers get publicity

A November 2016 paper published in Chemical Engineering Journal and retracted in March 2017 was accepted as cover photo of the journal, according to Dr. Sharma.

Unfortunately, an August 2014 paper published in the journal Biosensors & Bioelectronics and retracted by the journal in January 2015 was highlighted by Nature India in September 2014. The Nature India report was reproduced by the Swiss Innovation Foundation (Embassy of Switzerland in India). The retraction note says: “The article uses several electron micrographs which have been used in other publications as well, denoting different samples… This problem with the data casts doubt on all the data, and accordingly also the conclusions based on that data, in this publication.”

Similarly, an October 2014 paper published in Analytica Chimica Acta and retracted in January 2015 was highlighted by Nature India in December 2014. The retraction note says: “The article reports different electron micrographs for different sample preparations, but some images are of different areas from the same sample…The article reports EDX spectra in Figure 5C and Figure 5D for samples that are reported as different…These problems with the data presented cast doubt on all the data, and accordingly also the conclusions based on that data, in this publication.”

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.”

Recently retracted papers

RSC Advances: Amino acid derived highly luminescent, heteroatom-doped carbon dots for label-free detection of Cd2+/Fe3+, cell imaging and enhanced antibacterial activity

RSC Advances: Creation of ultrasound and temperature-triggered bubble liposomes from economical precursors to enhance the therapeutic efficacy of curcumin in cancer cells

RSC Advances: Shape-specific silver nanoparticles prepared by microwave-assisted green synthesis using pomegranate juice for bacterial inactivation and removal (did not respond)

Journal of Materials Chemistry C: Triple signalling mode carbon dots-based biodegradable molecularly imprinted polymer as a multi-tasking visual sensor for rapid and “on-site” monitoring of silver ions

Journal of Materials Chemistry B: A battle between spherical and cube-shaped Ag/AgCl nanoparticle modified imprinted polymer to achieve femtogram detection of alpha-feto protein

Journal of Materials Chemistry A: Multifunctional fluorescent chalcogenide hybrid nanodots (MoSe2:CdS and WSe2:CdS) as electro catalyst (for oxygen reduction/oxygen evolution reactions) and sensing probe for lead

Biomaterials Science: The next generation cell-penetrating peptide and carbon dot conjugated nano-liposome for transdermal delivery of curcumin

ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces: Dual-Responsive Polymer Coated Superparamagnetic Nanoparticle for Targeted Drug Delivery and Hyperthermia Treatment

Crystal Engineering Communication: Doping, strain, defects and magneto-optical properties of monodispersed Zn1-xMnxO nanocrystals 

Chemical Engineering Journal: Carbon dot/TAT peptide co-conjugated bubble nanoliposome for multicolor cell imaging, nuclear-targeted delivery, and chemo/photothermal synergistic therapy

Published in The Hindu on December 6, 2018

4 Thoughts

  1. It is really shameful to see that institutes like IITs and IIMs which are considered to be nationally important are not taking any actions against the professors that are supposedly the torch bearers of our society. Allowing such professors to continue is not only a bad precedent but questions the seriousness of higher education in Indian society. Recently, news about paper retraction of IIM Sirmaur Director were also doing rounds. It’s shameful that MHRD is appointing such personalities as Director.

  2. Guide of Prashant Sharma was VC of Bundelkhand University and currently Director of Inter University Accelerator Centre, Delhi.

  3. The main reason is the perception that publication in international journals is superior. People are not willing to publish in Indian journals, which are indexed in international databases, and peers consider Indian journals as inferior.

  4. Public faith in science is already low, and will further plummet with incidents like this coming to light.
    Publishing false claims using taxpayers money is a crime and I hope these ‘scientists’ are punished accordingly.

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