At last count, the Amrita Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Kochi has 12 papers that have duplicated images. Image manipulation was seen only in one paper. Seven papers have already been corrected, and four more are in the process of being corrected.
The Amrita Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Kochi, Kerala has 12 papers listed on Pubpeer for image duplication. In addition to the 12 papers, there are seven more papers that carry a correction for image duplication. Two papers have been retracted for the same reason.
One or both senior researchers — Dr. Shantikumar V. Nair and Dr. R. Jayakumar — from the Centre are corresponding authors in most of the papers. Dr. Nair is the Dean Research.
Except in one paper, where image manipulation is seen, reuse of the same image in other papers seems to be the problem. In some instances, duplication of images is seen in the same paper. There are a couple of papers that have two-three figures containing duplicated images.
The problematic papers have been published between 2010 and 2019, with 2014 and 2013 having the most numbers at five and three, respectively.
Five papers have been corrected in the last 30 days while two others have been corrected two and three months ago.
In one case, a paper corrected for image duplication in the same paper now seems to have duplication problems in two more figures.
Almost all the papers have been scrutinised and posted on Pubpeer by Dr. Elisabeth Bik, who is a Science Consultant at Harbers-Bik LLC, San Francisco, California. She is well known for spotting problems in images and her work has led to correction/retraction of many papers.
Institute with a difference
While manipulation and/or duplication of images in so many papers indeed reflects badly on the Centre, the way the corresponding authors have gone about correcting/retracting the problematic images in the journals even before they were flagged on Pubpeer comes as a breath of fresh air. That indeed instils confidence that the Centre and the senior researchers are indeed serious in setting the scientific record straight.
And unlike all other researchers who are authors of papers containing manipulated and/or duplicated images, Dr. Nair not only returned my call in 10 minutes to clarify over phone but emailed me his responses in about an hour.
Both over phone and in his email, he did not try to defend himself or Dr. Jayakumar, who is the other corresponding author.
Dr. Nair’s responses
“In all of the papers where our institute is involved there have so far been two papers that we have retracted. One is a journal where we could not submit a corrigendum as the journal policy does not allow corrections three years after publication. All other papers where duplications were seen have been accepted by editors as corrigendum which shows that the errors were relatively minor and inadvertent, and did not affect the paper conclusions,” says Dr. Nair in an email. “We still have four papers that are pending editorial review [for correction].”
Citing the reason why so many papers have problems with image duplication, Dr. Nair says: “The reason for [image duplication] I feel is that we have had several studies running concurrently and in parallel and sometimes the controls are similar. Students in some cases were a bit careless in arranging the images and the corresponding authors did not catch the error.”
Stressing that the errors were not intentional, he says: “As we could prove that the original and correct figures were in our database the editors have accepted this as inadvertent [mistakes] rather than intentional.”
Talking about the system that has been put in place to check papers for image duplication or manipulation and plagiarism before they are sent out to journals, Dr. Nair says: “We have now an independent institutional committee reviewing all questions raised in any paper. We have also instituted a rigorous data policy and set up folders in our servers for each student which are constantly reviewed by the guides and cross-checked against what is put together in a manuscript. All papers are also checked for plagiarism using internationally accepted software. We do not expect such inadvertent errors in the future with this new and stricter implementation.”
He goes on to says: “Corresponding authors are always ultimately responsible and we have now instituted a slightly more prolonged paper approval process so that student errors can be detected before the papers are submitted for publication.”
Strongly disagreeing that there is a pattern in publishing papers with duplicated images over the last 10 years, he says: “I do not believe that there is any trend or pattern here at this stage. Because most papers have been accepted as corrigendum, scientific standards suggest that these are inadvertent rather than intentional. However, we fully recognize that even inadvertent mistakes need to be avoided. Our institution is fully committed to maintaining the purity of the scientific literature and will most certainly retract any papers wherein we have the slightest doubt that errors were intentional.”
Problematic papers listed on Pubpeer
1) Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Chitin Hydrogel/Nano ZnO Composite Bandage as Antibacterial Wound Dressing
P. T. Sudheesh Kumar, Vinoth-Kumar Lakshmanan, Raja Biswas, Shantikumar V. Nair, R. Jayakumar
P.T. Sudheesh Kumar, N. Mincy Raj, G. Praveen, Krishna Prasad Chennazhi, Shantikumar V. Nair, R. Jayakumar
Tissue Engineering Part A (2013)
P.T. Sudheesh Kumar, S. Abhilash, K. Manzoor, S.V. Nair, H. Tamura, R. Jayakumar
Carbohydrate Polymers (2010)
Jayakumar, Roshni Ramachandran, P.T. Sudheesh Kumar, V.V. Divyarani, Sowmya Srinivasan, K.P. Chennazhi, H. Tamura, S.V. Nair
T. Sudheesh Kumar, Vinoth-Kumar Lakshmanan, T.V. Anilkumar, C. Ramya, P. Reshmi, A.G. Unnikrishnan, Shantikumar V. Nair, R. Jayakumar
R. Arunraj, N. Sanoj Rejinold, Sabitha Mangalathillam, Soumya Saroj, Raja Biswas, R. Jayakumar
T.R. Arunraj, N. Sanoj Rejinold, N. Ashwin Kumar, R. Jayakumar
T.R. Arunraj, N. Sanoj Rejinold, N. Ashwin Kumar, R. Jayakumar
Deepa Narayanan, A. Anitha, R. Jayakumar, K. P. Chennazhi
Sanoj Rejinold, Reju George Thomas, Muthunarayanan Muthiah, K. P. Chennazhi, In-Kyu Park, Yong Yeon Jeong, K. Manzoor, R. Jayakumar
RSC Advances (2014)
Shaymaa IK. Al-Juboori, Jayakumar Vadakekolathu, Sarra Idri, Sarah Wagner, Dimitrios Zafeiris, Joshua RD. Pearson, Rukaia Almshayakhchi, Michele Caraglia, Vincenzo Desiderio, Amanda K. Miles, David J. Boocock, Graham R. Ball, Tarik Regad
Chandana Koorella, Jayakumar R. Nair, Megan E. Murray, Louise M. Carlson, Stephanie K. Watkins, Kelvin P. Lee