Allegations of faked images and plagiarism against the chief of virology of the ICMR
Photo: Annie Spratt / Unsplash
- Nivedita Gupta, head of the virology department at ICMR, has been charged with image manipulation and text plagiarism in published scientific papers.
- One of the experts who reported the issues was Elisabeth Bik, the renowned scientific integrity consultant and expert in image forensics, on the PubPeer web platform.
- The articles in question were published in 2004 and 2015, and experts also reported signs of plagiarism in his doctoral thesis, submitted in 2004.
Hyderabad: Nivedita Gupta, Head of the Department of Virology at the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), has been charged with image manipulation and text plagiarism in her published scientific papers. Experts also alleged that she plagiarized text in her doctoral thesis, submitted to Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in 2004.
One of the experts who reported the issues was Elisabeth Bik, the renowned scientific integrity consultant and expert in image forensics, on the PubPeer web platform. (PubPeer is an online forum where scientists can discuss the merits and drawbacks of published scientific papers, often anonymously.) Bik had also shared concerns about Twitter.
“I came across his name while searching for literature related to COVID,” Bik said The science of yarn. Gupta’s name was among the results as she co-wrote several papers on studies of the novel coronavirus, including those report the results of the clinical trial of Covaxin – the COVID-19 vaccine that ICMR and Bharat Biotech have jointly developed. According to Bik, she generally limits her research to papers containing “pictures of gels, stains, tissues, etc.”
The first paper that Bik highlighted was published in 2004, entitled “Epidemiology and molecular typing of Candidiasis isolates from burn patients ”. Candidiasis is a kind of yeast. At PubPeer, Bik expressed concern over an image in the document that purported to show the results of DNA studies of Candidiasis isolated from various burn patients who also had Candidiasis infections. In the figure, Bik highlighted unusually identical pathways as well as anomalies such as an “unexpected sharp white spot”.
In DNA fingerprinting, scientists use the tools of molecular biology to understand the unique characteristics of the body’s DNA or RNA. With a few exceptions, the DNA fingerprints of two individuals – human or otherwise – cannot match. But in the figure from Gupta’s article, the DNA fingerprints of isolated samples from different parts of a patient’s body showed similarities, which shouldn’t have been there.
Bik raised a series of similar concerns regarding another number of the same paper.
The second paper was published in 2015, in the review International Journal of Biomedical and Advanced Research (sic), titled “Role of contaminated water for stillbirths in pregnant women”. Its authors are Gupta and another ICMR employee named Prajit Kumar Acharya. Here, Bik discovered that parts of text and even an image appeared to have been borrowed without credit from other work – actions suggesting plagiarism.
For example, the summary for the 2015 article reads:
“Each country must develop and implement a plan to improve maternal and newborn health that includes reduction in stillbirths and to count stillbirths in their vital statistics and other health outcome surveillance systems. We also call for increased investment in stillbirth-related research, and in particular research aimed at identifying and removing barriers to stillbirth aversion in maternal and newborn health systems in low- and middle-income countries.
This is similar to the summary of a 2011 article written by Robert L. Goldenberg and others:
“We call on each country to develop and implement a plan to improve maternal and newborn health that includes reduced stillbirths, and to count stillbirths in their vital statistics and other health outcome surveillance systems. We also call for increased investment in stillbirth-related research, and in particular research aimed at identifying and removing barriers to stillbirth aversion in maternal and newborn health systems in low- and middle-income countries.
Bik also identified signs of plagiarism in other sections of the document, from various other sources.
She also reported a picture illustrating how infections “travel” from mother to fetus, apparently borrowed without credit from an article published in 2010. A table in the Gupta / Acharya article listing the association between various organisms found in contaminated water and their effects on childbirth was also found to be “very similar,” Bik wrote, to an in the 2010 article. The Gupta / Acharya newspaper did not list the 2010 document in its list of references, she added.
(It is standard practice to include the list of articles whose content has been cited in the current article.)
Gupta did not respond to questions from The science of yarn, corn The imprint said she denied his allegations. Gupta’s supervisors at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where she submitted her doctoral thesis, and at Safdarjung Hospital, which provided her with the samples for her study, were “aware of all the raw data generated. in the experiments, ”she told the outlet.
Rajendra Prasad, then Gupta’s thesis director at JNU’s Special Center for Molecular Medicine (and now at Amity University, Haryana) said The science of yarn that Gupta’s study is “about 20 years old” and that he “asks” her to answer The science of yarn. This report will be updated if and when Prasad and / or Gupta provide specific responses.
RP Narayan, Gupta’s supervisor at Safdarjung Hospital and also a co-author of the 2004 study, did not respond to requests for comment. The science of yarn could not contact Acharya.
After Gupta’s response to The imprint, Bik pointed out a figure in Gupta’s doctoral thesis which appears to have rectangular boxes around several strips, as if they had been cut and glued from other sources. Again another number also duplicated images of Candidiasis but claims to show photos of different samples.
In addition, several pieces of text of the introduction to Gupta’s thesis appear to have been plagiarized from a 2002 book titled Fungal pathogenesis: principles and clinical applications, written by Richard A Calderone.
Bik said The science of yarn that it is not for him “to call these concerns ‘scientific misconduct’ but plagiarism”, since others should be able to directly verify whether “exact blocks of identical text without quotes” constitute plagiarism. She also stated “the duplicates in the figures for the doctoral theses … and some of the duplicates in the  paper were partially confirmed with software.
An email to ICMR Director General Balaram Bhargava had not elicited a response at the time of this report’s publication.
Sayantan Datta (they / them) is a queer-trans writer, communicator, and science journalist. They are currently working with feminist multimedia science collective TheLifeofScience.com and are tweeting at @queersprings.