New Delhi, Feb. 24: Disclosures that the Prime Minister’s top science adviser, C.N.R. Rao, is a co-author of three research papers with plagiarised text have stirred a debate about seniors accepting authorship while being oblivious to the papers’ contents.
Rao and S.B. Krupanidhi, a senior professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, have apologised for a July 2011 paper in which, they said, a PhD student had copied four sentences from a 2010 paper by US-based authors, as reported earlier this week.
Today, an anonymous person revealed in a blog that Krupanidhi and Rao were also co-authors in two other research papers which too contain plagiarised lines in their introductory sections from previously published papers by foreign researchers.
After the new disclosure, Krupanidhi said all the copied sentences only describe the background and the importance of the research topic in the papers. “The experiments, the results and the research findings are new in all three papers,” Krupanidhi said today.
The senior scientists have blamed a student, a co-author in all three papers, for the problem. “What can I say? This is terribly embarrassing but this student appears to have had a habit of picking up lines for the introductory section of papers,” Krupanidhi toldThe Telegraph.
Rao, who was not aware of the new claims when this reporter spoke to him this evening, said the earlier paper had been drafted by Krupanidhi’s group. “I would never allow this to happen. I don’t know who is trying to do this damage to me,” he added.
The PhD student said he was unaware that what he was doing was wrong and that he had used only a few sentences in the introduction. “Our focus is on the research, the experiments, and the results — I guess I didn’t pay attention to the introductory section. My professors are not responsible for this,” he said.
The Indian researchers’ May 2011 paper in the Journal of Luminescence contains several sentences in its introductory section that are near-verbatim copies of introductory sentences in a January 2006 paper in the journal Advanced Materials by UK-based scientists and a July 2009 paper in the journal Nanotechnology by scientists in Cyprus and the UK.
Another paper by the Indian researchers published in the September 2009 issue ofNanotechnology borrows sentences from a September 1995 paper in Applied PhysicsLetters co-authored by scientists in China and the US.
Rao and Krupanidhi had in November 2011 apologised for a paper published inAdvanced Materials which contained introductory sentences from a paper published inApplied Physics Letters a year earlier.
A senior scientist not connected with any of these research papers said that while the cut-and-paste job by the PhD student could not be pardoned, it appeared “minor” and “should not be blown out of proportion”.
“No research ideas or results were lifted,” said Ajay Sood, a senior physicist at the IISc. “When someone blows things out of proportion like this, whatever good has been done gets submerged,” Sood, president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, said, adding that Rao’s contribution to Indian science was “enormous”.
But the anonymous revelations have sparked a debate about the responsibility of senior researchers for contents of research papers for which they accept authorship. “It would be appalling if senior authors hang young students out to dry — a research paper represents a collective effort and all authors should take responsibility for any mistakes made,” said a senior IISc faculty member who requested anonymity.
Some scientists believe that the episode should prompt prolific senior scientists to review the practice of accepting authorship for papers they have not reviewed in detail. “If senior scientists don’t have time to review papers, perhaps they should accept only acknowledgement and not full authorship,” said Nandula Raghuram, an associate professor who has tracked research ethics.
“The question to be asked, in this case, is whether the authors had instructed the student on how to write research papers and how to attribute papers when something is picked up,” Raghuram said.
Some scientists say the source of the problem appears to be poor penmanship among young scientists. “We’re familiar with this — many of our young researchers have poor writing skills, but are excellent in experiments and lab work,” said Thennathur Abinandanan, an IISc professor.