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Updated: February 27, 2012 19:18 IST

IISc plagiarism row hots up

Staff Reporter
Comment (23)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
A file photo of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister.
The Hindu A file photo of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister.

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).

Verbatim overlap

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.

‘Clear plagiarism’

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.”

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I like the responses from the senior scientists. One is blaming the professor and the professor in turn is blaming the student. I found it very funny, the professor is saying no action is needed against the student, as if he is the culprit. I am also glad that people like Rahul Siddhardhan are still remaining in India. It is pleasant surprise for me. I thought all the Indian scientists will support him. We are very talented people, but corruption in the politics is affecting the science also. It is unfortunate that people like him are on the controlling positions. Can we allow the PhD student to change his PhD topic and even move to another institute? Can we dismiss and punish the senior authors?

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 06:05 IST

First of all, I do not understand, why is the entire Science in INDIA under question. It is a paper which has cited and reproduced text from other paper. It has been happening with many of the non-Indian scientific papers as well. And coming to motivation of the works, due to overwhelming scientific literature on a given topic, today most of the scientific reports are an advancement of an existing idea or field. Also, if journal itself (which by all means takes enough care to publish novel work only) has accepted that it is novel work,why are others questioning the entire work. If we ourselves disrespect our scientists taking the name of India, people who have been waiting to look us down would wake up immediately. The issue as has been pointed out by many is only mole which is being made into a mountain.

from:  Saru
Posted on: Feb 26, 2012 at 00:33 IST

CNR cannot be blamed as the work was done in Krupanidhi's lab. Krupanidhi should have reviewed the paper thoroughly before submission. What a shame to IISc that such people will continue to survive in spite of denigrating the century old institute's name.

from:  HSR
Posted on: Feb 24, 2012 at 22:57 IST

CNR Rao and Krupanidhi are supposedly senior scientists, who should be mentoring and advising their students and staff. The latter has claimed that they paid no attention to the plagiarized text as it happened to be in the general introduction. Does he imply that the introduction to a paper is unimportant and that one can write whatever he wants to? Why should one pen an introduction at all then? Rao and Krupanidhi were the corresponding authors and as such MUST assume responsibility for the plagiarism. They should be ashamed of themselves for trying to pass the buck. They want to eat their cake and have it too - they want credit as 'authors for correspondence' but would like the student to take the blame for the slip-ups. A simple apology without invoking the student at all would have been magnanimous.

from:  K. Chandrasekhar
Posted on: Feb 24, 2012 at 21:53 IST

I have myself checked the original paper from which it was copied. There are two consecutive sentences at least four lines are copied from the original source. I strongly agree with Rahul Siddharthan who pointed out it was clear plagiarism. usually, the scientists do blame on students. Students are doing without knowing it was not wrong.

from:  dhamodharan
Posted on: Feb 24, 2012 at 21:01 IST

In today's fast paced world, most students
follow this practice to obtain maximum number of publications. If the
guide is hardworking, he would definitely see that the work is
original and worth to be published. However, if the guide is "publish-
by-hook-or-by-crook-kind", then this is bound to happen. CNR is
definitely one of the most revered Indian scientists, but the student
did his work in Krupanidhi's lab. Therefore unlike CNR, Krupanidhi
should have checked the manuscript 10s of times before sending for
publication. However, probably he did not get time for these petty
jobs when crores were going on in his mind in the form of project
funding. He might be preoccupied in the thoughts of "who's the next
bakra" to get the funding? After all he is a prestigious professor of
a prestigious institute and should be working in prestigious projects
worth ONLY crores. So, what is a technical paper in front of currency
notes?

from:  Ravi Kumar
Posted on: Feb 24, 2012 at 18:28 IST

Juggie and linuxguru have rightly pointed out that Advanced Materials
Paper thoroughly and generously borrows from the original work in the
Applied Physics Letters by Ghosh and co-workers. Linux guru earlier in
the forum has rightly pointed out three points. I would request others
to read the actual papers. Any person would an undergraduate degree in
a science or engineering discipline would be able to understand the
similarity. There are some Rao sympathizers in this forum who are
deliberately trying to water down the actual problem. Probably Ghosh
did not show any interest in pursuing a case of blatant plagiarism
against Rao as he is afraid of retribution from the Rao camp. Any
junior professor would like to keep mum in such a situation. I
sincerely believe this is the tip of an iceberg. Proper investigations
are needed to reveal the truth

from:  albert pinto
Posted on: Feb 24, 2012 at 00:01 IST

Enthusiastic students appreciating Foreign authors is well known in Indian Sciemce - Including their English language

Their Foreign appreciation does indeed take the form of Plagiarism - Read Indian Theses you will know! You should leave it at that! It is Cultural including Bollywood!

Appreciate Good science - Whether it is Carbon nano tubes or HiFi Graphene if it is published Abroad who does it here in India is Prof CNR Rao!!!

from:  Dr. Suresh Iyer
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 23:47 IST

A detailed reading of the original APL paper by Ghosh et al., and the impugned AM paper by Rao et al., quickly reveals the following:

1) Rao et al. not only plagiarized the two sentences in the introduction, but that the whole AM paper borrows significantly from the APL paper - materials, methods, characterization, data, graphs,etc.

2)There is very little that is novel in the AM paper that was not already covered in the APL paper. In particular, the core finding that RGO can be used as an IR detector was already in the APL paper.

3)The reference/attribution in the AM paper to the APL paper is vague and non-specific.

There should be a full investigation into the MRC,IISc and JNCASR labs involved, and the experimental samples should be independently checked and re-tested to see if it matches the raw data - fabrication/falsification of data seems very likely. There has been a wilfull intent and deliberate obfuscation by Rao et al. to claim credit for the earlier work by Ghosh et al.

from:  linuxguru
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 18:11 IST

There is a trend among researchers to add names of well-known people to get their articles published soon. These great people become great due to hundreds of articles in which they have contributed nothing except their names. They are enjoying promotions and all based on these papers. You ask some questions from some papers and I can assure you that they are quiet ignorant of many findings published with thier names. Scientific community is no exception from the corruption. It is fantastic to note also that there are a few scientists who are immune from this corruption cancer.

from:  Muhammed Kutty
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 16:01 IST

What bothers me is that the original APL paper had the idea which seems to be replicated in the advanced material paper (possibility of using Graphene oxide for infrared detection). This again no big deal research sometime gets redundant and repeatability is a good thing. But what is bothering me is the way the original paper is cited in CNR's paper. The APL paper, cited as ref 22 in CNR's paper, is just used as a reference for the Graphense oxide (GO) material synthesis. However, what CNR's paper failed to mention is that the APL paper already made infrared photo detectors based on GO. [ NOTE: Advanced material is more difficult to publish and usually don't like results which already has been published] Now one cannot argue that the CNR group did not know about the APL. Since they did cite it and also copied parts of it (no matter how trivial the copy part was). There was a deliberate intend to hide the fact that the APL paper actually did the work.

from:  Juggie
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 08:51 IST

It is obvious that the commentator Ani, with his naive statement, “If the student did all the work, why not he is the corresponding author?" IS NOT A SCIENTIST, proving the veracity of the bon-mot, Fools rush in where angels fear to tread..

from:  Dr. Joseph Christie
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 08:06 IST

Plagiarism, whether deliberate or accidental, is a crime. Eminent academicians like Prof Rao should lead by example, not by apologies by
proxi. It is a very sad day for Indian scientists when such things
happen from from scientists in such very high positions.

from:  Mohandas K P
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 06:08 IST

One wonders what could have prevented CNR Rao from putting a simple
query to any of the other authors of the research - have you used with
appropriate acknowledgement complete sentences as composed by authors of
previous papers ? If so let me see the exact stuff .... [etc. etc.]

from:  MMK Rao
Posted on: Feb 23, 2012 at 00:27 IST

Prof. CNR Rao is the greatest scientist of all times in India. he is sincere, innocent and honest when it comes to research. Rao has not done any plagiarism. But, my only serious question to all the scientists in IISC, IIT's and other research institutions in India, that will they get the Nobel Prize at least in the next 1000 years??? How much of money is wasted in the name of projects and projects? Long live UGC, CSIR, etc etc

from:  govinda
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 20:32 IST

Apropos of the statement of Dr Raghuram, former secretary SSV, it may interest readers to note that Dr CNR Rao attracted SSV's attention in 1987 regarding four papers on superconductivity published by him and his group. In all four, the manuscripts were received AFTER the formal date of publication of the journals. Some scientists felt that it was done to give false "priority" of publication.
It is strange that Indian scientists including SSV members are so agitated about plagiarism and the like, but fail to act when outright fraud like fabrication or falsification of research data is apparent. I was the SSV's founder Joint Secretary, and had brought to SSV's notice a serious case of fabrication in the PhD thesis of one of my colleagues. For reasons best known to them SSV bigwigs ignored my complaint. Conscientious Indian scientists should heed the words (apocryphally attributed to Edmund Burke), "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"

from:  T S Raman PhD
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 20:08 IST

If the student did all the work, why not he is the corresponding author? This is what happens in Science. When there is a mistake, they blame student and when they get great results, the credit goes to the Supervisor. By looking at this, there is no hope for a progress in science in India, which is just doing copy cat!!! Media need to visit the labs and interview all the students personally. The research students life in India is horrible in all the institutes. You are forced to do labwork on saturdays, sundays and also some labs arrange meeting in the midnight and week ends. No social security or insurance for the students. Time has come for the media to take a step further and publish the reality.

from:  Ani
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 18:38 IST

For whatever reasons a mountain has been made on a molehill.
More discussions magnify the worse part of the episode.
In view of Prof Rao's reputation it would have been better had the paper
been withdrawn. Now no defence whether it is 'an overlap by oversight' or plagiarism is going to be helpful. While the entire paper is a joint responsibility,it is also improper to blame the IISc student who copied the lines from another paper.

from:  M Das
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 14:36 IST

While copying a few sentences from another source in Introduction is not acceptable, this issue is being blown out of proportion. I only hope it serves as a wake-up call to all researchers (faculty and students). There is really no need to take any sentence from any other source and if a writer likes a particular sentence it should be put within quotes with appropriate referencing. On the other hand, there are some sentences which one may find in many scientific papers as well as in news paper reports such as 'Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world today'. This is not plagiarism 'in spirit'. No wonder people talk about following the 'law in letter and spirit'.

from:  E. Arunan
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 09:33 IST

A very sorry state of affair in Indian research.

from:  Deva
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 09:05 IST

This deplorable proclivity and temptation to lift several passages verbatim off the original scientific papers and present them as their own in their plagiarized work, is a sickness or disease among several Indian "scientists". Many an ill-informed and misguided graduate student in the US Universities in US has been denied his/her Doctorate degree or even stripped off the degree awarded earlier, when he/she has been found guilty of stealing the works of others, without acknowledging the original source in their dissertations. As a scientist, I am disappointed that the Indian news paper report has not sounded any sort of advice or warning to the Indian scientists that plagiarism is a serious crime tantamount to theft in the Western society. As young students doing Ph.D they steal others’ works and ideas in order to use in their dissertations. However, Indian drug companies, unashamedly copy patented drugs,thus violating patent rights of the originators. Chicken and egg story again.

from:  Dr. Joseph Christie
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 04:27 IST

Every literature survey should be fresh and not taken(copy) from other papers. People can refer and track the appropriate literature based on citations of referring Journal.
It is very sad when People of such high caliber make such mistakes either knowingly or unknowingly. It hits the very credibility of scientific Community.
It dosen't matter if the scientist of my nation dosen't discover anything of importance. But it dose matter if wrong or fake or fudged information is published. People who refer such journals cannot follow it as literature then. Ethics matter most.
There are scientist in India who cannot genuinely publish their findings because other scientist don't agree for various conflicting opinion which is kind of considered healthy. But re-producing others work and taking credit should be strongly discouraged. Its like tampering the ball in a game of Cricket. As it will change the game.

from:  Senthil
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 04:04 IST

Prof. Rao has achieved so much in life. Such senior scholars should encourage, supervise and correct the works done by their students. Why must they lend their names to the papers written primarily by their students? Among scientists this disease is endemic. How sad!

from:  Deepak Kumar
Posted on: Feb 22, 2012 at 03:26 IST
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