The Sciences

20+ Papers by IIT Dhanbad Profs Retracted Over Duplicate Images

Several other papers by assistant professors Rashmi Madhuri and Prashant Sharma remain under scrutiny.

New Delhi: Two faculty members of IIT Dhanbad have notched the most retractions among researchers in India: two dozen. Assistant professors Rashmi Madhuri and Prashant Sharma, who have co-authored over 40 papers, had their first paper retracted in February this year following accusations of scientific misconduct. Seven more retractions followed in March and April. The count increased by four the month after.

The latest retraction, of nine additional papers, happened days ago and for the same reason: duplicated images passed off as being from different materials/experiments.

“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,” the Royal Society of Chemistry, which publishes the journals that recently retracted the nine papers, told Retraction Watch.

Of the nine retracted just days ago, four were published in RSC Advances. One each appeared in Journal of Materials Chemistry AJournal of Materials Chemistry B, Journal of Materials Chemistry CBiomaterials Science and Chemical Engineering Journal.

Madhuri, an assistant professor in the department of applied chemistry, and Sharma, an assistant professor in the department of applied physics, have thus far notched 24 and 26 retractions, respectively.

As Prasad Ravindranath, The Hindu‘s science editor, wrote on his blog, several other papers by the two authors and with similar issues have been listed on PubPeer, a website where researchers and users review scientific papers.

As The Wire report earlier, an independent investigation by a four-member fact-finding committee began soon after the first paper was retracted.

IIT Dhanbad director Rajiv Shekhar had said mid-August that the probe had been completed, and that the scientific misconduct was of serious nature. He added that once the committee’s report reached the board’s chairman, the duo would be served with a chargesheet upon the board’s approval.

The board was supposed to meet in late September. Shekhar said that whether or not the two accepted the charges, the probe itself would wind up before the year’s close.

Last month, Shekhar told Ravindranath that the investigation was yet to be completed. When contacted after the latest instance of retraction, Shekhar appeared to be unavailable for comment.

What makes the institute’s investigation crucial is the fact that while image duplication is a global problem, few are charged with it.

The problem, as The Wire has reported, is more pronounced in India, compounded by the absence of proper redressal or sanction mechanisms. A 2016 analysis showed that “India had a 1.93-times higher-than-predicted ratio of papers containing image duplication”.

According to Ravindranath, Madhuri had brushed the allegations aside at first, saying the scientists posting on PubPeer were doing so without “reading our papers” and intended only to defame.

In an email to Ravindranath in mid-December, Madhuri wrote: “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.”