Retraction saga: IIT Dhanbad faculty learnt to reuse published images during their doctoral programme

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Rashmi Madhuri and Prashant Sharma of IIT Dhanbad have 15 and 19 papers respectively listed on Pubpeer website. These papers have been published while they were doing their doctoral programme at different institutes. Like their two dozen retracted papers, these papers too have serious issues with published images being reused to represent different samples or experiments.

During the course of a doctoral programme, students learn to operate certain sophisticated equipments and learn techniques to prepare and study their samples. These come handy when they start their career as independent researchers. Dr. Rashmi Madhuri and Dr. Prashant Sharma, who are Assistant Professors at Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad, who so far have two dozen retractions to their credit, have surely learnt other skill sets too — how to manipulate and duplicate images and X-ray powder diffraction profiles for paper publication.

While one paper of Dr. Sharma published in 2013 in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B  has been retracted on November 23, 2018, there are 18 more papers listed on Pubpeer website wherein the images and/or XRD profiles appear to be resued. The same images and/or XRD profiles are used exactly the same way or after simple manipulations in different papers to represent very different samples or materials, or different experiments.

The retraction note says: “The Royal Society of Chemistry hereby wholly retracts this Journal of Materials Chemistry B article due to concerns with the reliability of the data in the published article. The XRD profiles in Fig. 1 for Pepsin and Biotin capped nanocrystals are identical but have been reported as different samples. Given the significance of the concern, the validity of the data and, therefore, the conclusions presented in this paper are no longer reliable.” Like in earlier cases, Dr. Sharma has opposed the retraction.

With the exception of a few papers, most of the 18 papers have been published between 2009 and 2012 while Dr Sharma was with the Nanotechnology Application Centre, Faculty of Science at the University of Allahabad working for his PhD degree.

While a few names are common to many papers, Dr. Sharma and Prof. Avinash C. Pandey (who was Dr. Sharma’s PhD supervisor) are co-authors in all the 19 papers. Prof. Pandey is currently the Director of the Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) in Delhi.

Following the same path

Though pursuing a PhD degree at the Department of Chemistry, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and working under a different supervisor, Dr. Madhuri too appears to have learnt the same tricks — using already published images and XRD profiles as representing a different sample or material for a fresh publication.

Like at IIT Dhanbad, Dr. Madhuri has worked extremely hard and shown remarkable productivity during her doctoral programme — almost all the 15 papers listed on the Pubpeer website for image duplication have been published between 2010 and 2011.

And like in the case of Dr. Sharma, a few authors are common to a few papers, but Dr. Madhuri and Prof. Bhim Bali Prasad, who was her supervisor, are common to all papers.  But unlike Dr. Sharma, none of Dr. Madhuri’s 15 papers published during that time has been retracted so far.

Investigation at IIT Dhanbad

Though the fact-finding committee formed by IIT Dhanbad has already investigated and prepared a charge sheet against the two faculty members, it is not clear if the committee has looked into all their papers or has restricted itself to those papers published from IIT Dhanbad. I guess the delay in completing the investigation is probably because the committee has been tasked to look into the matter in detail. “We are following due process,” Prof. Rajiv Shekhar, IIT Dhanbad Director had told me. So I wish to remain optimistic and think that the delay has nothing to do with any pressure from outside.

5 Thoughts

  1. These researchers have been getting plenty of money for their service and research in the form of either fellowship/salary. There are many more researchers who are struggling in state universities to do research. So, my dear government authorities do not go by institute’s name but please recruit talented people.

  2. Art of manipulation and publishing fake data become more and more vibrant from one generation gurus to the next. Prof. Balaram, former director IISc had cautioned few years in his editorial Current Science.

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