A US-based microbiologist Elisabeth Bik has alleged numerous discrepancies in the research papers published by Annamalai University between 2004 and 2019.

Research fraud in over 200 Annamalai University papers alleges US scholarWikimedia Commons/Arunshariharan (CC BY-SA 3.0)
news Education Friday, November 15, 2019 - 14:44

Over 200 research papers from Tamil Nadu’s Annamalai University have been flagged for allegedly publishing manipulated images, plagiarised content and fudged data, threatening the credibility of one of the state’s leading universities. 

Elisabeth Bik, a US-based microbiologist and a science integrity consultant, claimed discovered that numerous research papers by professors and scholars from the university published between 2004 and 2019 showed signs of fraud. The papers in question have been published in various international scientific journals.

“This is unique as far as I know. I have seen papers in all countries possible but I have never seen a cluster so concentrated in one university. This set is unique in that it just involves not one author. It is not one bad apple. Many professors have been doing this. The list that I have compiled has papers published back in 2004,” alleged Elisabeth to TNM. 

In a detailed account, Elisabeth highlights a portion of a 2014 research paper published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry in which she suspects image manipulation. 

In this instance, the image from the 2014 paper has portions which look exactly the same within the same photo, she alleges. Elisabeth uses coloured circles to draw attention to the portions in question. 

“[It] appears to show repetitive cell structures within the same photo, highlighted with colored circles,” Elisabeth wrote in her blog post. 

Image credit: Scienceintegritydigest.com

Another paper, published in 2010 in Colloids and Surfaces B Biointerfaces, “contains two photos with possible repetitions of the same nanoparticles,” according to her post. The allegedly similar portions are circled.   

Image credit: Scienceintegritydigest.com

Data fudging was discovered in another paper, Elisabeth said. The following image shows graphs that appear repeated. “In this 2013 Spectrochimica Acta. Part A, Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy paper, Figure 4 appears to be showing unexpectedly similar patterns in graphs (PubPeer), marked here in pink, orange, and blue,” the blog post claimed. 

Image credit: Scienceintegritydigest.com

A 2009 paper published in the Academic Journal of Cancer Research has been accused of plagiarism. (The allegedly plagiarised sentences have been marked).

Image credit: Scienceintegritydigest.com

Springer Nature, which publishes Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, confirmed to TNM that it is currently investigating the allegations.

“We are aware of this post and are investigating it. When concerns are raised about any of the papers published in our journals, we look into them carefully, following an established process. We are unable to comment further at this point,” a spokesperson for Springer Nature said in an email to TNM. 

TNM has reached out to Elsevier, which publishes Colloids and Surfaces B Biointerfaces, for comment. The other publications could not immediately be reached. 

Speaking to TNM from San Francisco, Elisabeth said that she started checking papers from Annamalai University based on a tip. “Once I find a paper like this from one professor, I check all other papers of the same professor. I did find several clusters — 20 research groups approximately, whose papers had such problems. Most such papers are from the Faculty of Science -- Departments of Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Chemistry and Marine Biology,” she alleged. 

This is not the first time that research papers produced from an Indian university have been embroiled in plagiarism charges. In 2016, the then Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry Chandra Krishnamurthy was sacked by the Ministry of Human Resources Development for plagiarism and misrepresentations, after a University Grants Commission committee found her guilty of the allegations. 

TNM has reached out to the Vice Chancellor of Annamalai University for his comment on the allegations. The story will be updated as and when he responds. 

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