One of the 4 authors says it was ‘an overlap by oversight'
Objecting to the use of the word ‘plagiarism' to refer to portions of a published paper allegedly lifted from another journal, S. B. Krupanidhi, a co-author of the paper in question and professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), told The Hindu it was rather, “an overlap by oversight.”
Last November, C.N.R. Rao, Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and one of the four authors of a paper published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials, apologised for “the reproduction of text” from another paper that appeared in Applied Physics Letters. “The corresponding authors sincerely apologise to the readers, reviewers, and editors for this oversight and for any miscommunication,” the apology read.
The paper in question, “Infrared Photo-detectors Based on Reduced Graphene Oxide and Graphene Nanoribbons” published in Advanced Materials online on July 22, 2011 was authored by Basant Chitara (IISc), L.S. Panchakarla (Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research), Prof. Krupanidhi and Prof. Rao.
On July 28, 2011 the editorial office of Advanced Materials wrote to Prof. Rao and Prof. Krupanidhi seeking a clarification “about the possible overlaps between your publication and a paper that was published in Applied Physics Letters last year (April 2010).
The editors cited the following paragraph, as an example of an almost verbatim overlap:
“In addition, controlled reduction of GO [graphene oxide] by chemical or thermal means allows the tunability of optoelectronic properties. Thin films prepared from solution-processed GO offer ease of material processing, low cost of fabrication, mechanical flexibility, and compatibility with various substrates, making them attractive candidates for large-area devices. GO-based thin films have already been used as transparent and flexible materials for electronic devices.”
Professor Krupanidhi said the editorial office of Advanced Materials, which pointed out the similarity in text to the authors, had not used the word ‘plagiarism' in their communication, and instead referred to the sentences as “direct overlap” and “possible overlaps.”
The journal did not believe it was necessary to withdraw the paper but asked the authors to prepare “a ‘correction' that contains an apology.”
Writing on behalf of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Prof. Krupanidhi said on e-mail that the journal had found lines of the text in the introduction of the paper that exactly matched an earlier published work. “This was found out by software normally used by various journals. We realised that a couple of sentences were included in the introduction of the paper by our student, which neither of us paid attention to as they happened to be in the general introduction.”
Prof. Rao offered to withdraw the paper, but the journal accepted it with a correction. “Based on these facts, this incident can in no way be categorized a case of plagiarism,” he said.
Rahul Siddharthan, a physicist and computational biologist with the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Chennai) who recently organised a workshop on academic ethics at the Institute, is not convinced.
“There was clear plagiarism in the introduction,” he said, adding that an apology was, however, adequate. “The plagiarised text consisted of four sentences of literature review and the included citations. Though there were no original ideas here, and only a survey of previously published literature, one expects writers to do their own literature survey and not rely on previously published papers, and it is certainly unacceptable to lift the text verbatim,” he told The Hindu.
N. Raghuram, former Secretary of the Society for Scientific Values, New Delhi, believes that it is the responsibility of the senior authors to ensure accuracy of a scientific record.
“If you are in a job where you are training people, you are enforcing a standard of accurate reporting in science.”