Chemistry World investigation sparks fraud inquiry

Killugudi Jayaraman/ Bangalore, India

The Indian Academy of Sciences is to investigate after Chemistry World alerted it to a possible instance of plagiarism by an Indian chemist.

The allegations relate to a paper published by the academy’s Journal of Chemical Sciences in December 2000, which was authored by Randhir Singh, a reader of chemistry at the Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar, and two of his students [1]. Though Singh denies the charge, it now appears that some of the results and text may have been lifted directly from a paper published 21 years earlier in the Journal of Inorganic and Nuclear Chemistry by a group that was based in the UK [2].

"This is a matter of deep concern to us and we will investigate the case further" - Seshaiyer Krishnamurthy

’This is a matter of deep concern to us and we will investigate the case further,’ Seshaiyer Krishnamurthy, editor of the Indian academy’s Journal of Chemical Sciences said. ’We are taking every step to prevent the pernicious practice of plagiarism rearing its head in all the journals published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. Ultimately, it is only alertness on the part of reviewers and editors and adherence by the authors to basic ethical values which can eliminate this practice.’

Striking similarities

The papers in question deal with the synthesis and electrochemical properties of macrocyclic compounds. These chemicals have been used as dyes and pigments, MRI contrast agents and chemical sensors. More recently, they’ve served as molecular switches and components in nano-scale motors.

’They have slightly changed the structure of the compound but all the other details are virtually the same,’ said John Goddard, one of the authors of the British paper, told the Chemistry World. ’The numerical data generated by Singh and the experimental methodology he used again show a striking similarity between his work and ours.’ 

Much of the text of Singh’s article seems to be copied from the earlier paper and the final paragraph is all but identical. What first tipped Goddard off to the possible fraud, however, were the figures - polarograms showing votammetric data in the two papers are suspiciously similar, he says.

Goddard, who wrote the paper while working at the photographic firm Kodak’s laboratory in Harrow, is now retired.

Coming shortly after the case of Pattium Chiranjeevi, who last year was found guilty of plagiarising or falsifying results in over 70 journal articles, the incident has dismayed Indian chemists, many of whom have labelled it as clear-cut academic fraud.

"A case of plagiarism at its worst" - Srinivasan Chandrasekaran

Srinivasan Chandrasekaran, chairman of the division of chemical sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, called it ’a case of plagiarism at its worst’.

’Starting from the abstract and introduction to the complexes prepared, methods of synthesis, spectroscopic data and the results and discussion - including polarographic data, cyclic voltammetric data and the conclusions drawn - everything has been lifted from Goddard’s original paper and reproduced in Singh’s,’ he told Chemistry World. ’There are minor differences: discussion of NMR data from the original paper has been left out of Singh’s and Singh has provided a few additional references.’

Dipak Ranjan Mal, a professor of chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, agrees. ’Without any hesitation, I can side with the British scientist,’ he said. ’More than 50 per cent of the phrases of the Indian paper are identical with that of the British. It is a serious offence on the part of the Indian researchers.’

Comparable compounds

But Singh rejects the allegations. ’Our macrocyclic ligand is phenyl substituted and Goddard’s ligand is methyl substituted. As the compounds are different there is no question of plagiarism,’ Singh stated in an email to Chemistry World. The figures in the two papers are different and were selected at random from many polarograms, he said.

The similarity of the results and interpretation is due to the fact his and Goddard’s compounds differed only in a single substitution, said Singh. His group searched the literature and found Goddard’s technique suitable for studying the electrochemical behaviour of their macrocyclic complexes. That he has cited Goddard’s paper is evidence that no plagiarism was intended, Singh added.

Update - 03 March 2009

Seshaiyer Krishnamurthy, editor of the Journal of Chemical Sciences, has now confirmed that Randhir Singh’s article has been withdrawn and removed from the journal website. ’Our own investigations reveal that the author has reproduced cyclic voltammograms and also some paragraphs verbatim from the earlier paper. The author was provided an opportunity to explain the alleged plagiarism and to submit copies of original polarograms he had recorded and laboratory notebooks to substantiate that he had actually prepared the compounds and recorded their cyclic polarograms. The author in his reply stated that he was not in a position to provide the required details,’ he said in his statement at the front of the January 2009 issue of the journal.