Since I had a blog entry here recently talking about plagiarism, I thought I should point out a whopping case of it that’s come to light. One Pattium Chiranjeevi, a professor of chemistry at Sri Venkateswara University in Triupati, India, has been accused of cranking out dozens of forged publications over the last few years.
I don’t see how there can be any doubt about the guy. He published 60 or 70 papers in under four years, which is enough to make you wonder right there. Unless you’ve got a monster research group, and you’re constantly breaking everything down into the tiniest bites and repeating lots of stuff to boot, that’s just not possible. But these papers, mostly on analytical methods development, are just too similar to things that were already in the literature. Elsevier has already retracted thirteen papers from the list, and no doubt other publishers are working on doing the same. A panel at his university has concluded that he plagiarized data and included “unjustified co-authors”. My favorite part of the whole affair is that some of his publications include data from instruments that don’t even exist at SVU.
We owe P. K. Dasgupta at UT-Arlington for catching on to all this. As detailed here in C&E News, he realized that one of Chiranjeevi's papers sent in for review was identical to something he'd seen last year. Well, mostly identical - Chiranjeevi had gone so far as to substitute the word "arsenic" for the word "chromium", but other than that demanding find-and-replace job, the manuscripts were identical. That should give you some idea of the level this guy was working on. Interestingly, he doesn't seem to show up in that Deja Vu database I linked to earlier, even though some of the journals he published in are in PubMed - is this because of these sorts of word games?
Science managed to get ahold of Chiranjeevi for comment, and his response does not inspire visions of a man unjustly accused. He blames colleagues and journal editors for the whole thing, says the charges are “baseless”, and (you won’t see this one coming) says that he plans to take action in an “international court of justice” to clear his name. Science left that last phrase in quotes, too, even though it’s a perfectly recognizable English term, which is the equivalent of putting “sic” after it: “That’s really what he said, folks; we’re not making that one up”. What sort of person starts blowharding (no offense!) about international courts of justice in a situation like this? Quite possibly the sort of maniac who’s capable of, well, plagiarizing up a new publication every three weeks or so without even bothering if the experimental section includes equipment that he’s ever seen or used. What goes through the heads of these people is a mystery that the rest of the population may never solve.
That Science news article tries to tie this to the recent scandals in stem cell research and low-temperature physics, but I don’t think the comparison holds up. For one thing, those two weren’t plagiarism, but featured results that had been completely made up. And they were spectacularly focused on hugely popular fields of research while Chiranjeevi’s papers are small and relatively obscure. It’s doubtful that anyone was led down the wrong path by reading them – in fact, it’s doubtful if anyone read them to any great extent at all, which is how something like this can go on so long. These sorts of papers are specialized reference material, not breaking news. Actually, it makes more sense to plagiarize that kind of work than to claim to have performed groundbreaking work in stem cells or superconductivity. If Chiranjeevi had cut back to a few papers per year, he probably could have made a career out of it. For some values of the word “career”.
Note: if I'm lucky, maybe one of the professor's defenders (!) will show up in the comments section, as one seems to have here and here!