CU teacher under data fraud scanner
New Delhi: Calcutta University is probing allegations of data fabrication and scientific misconduct by a biochemistry department faculty member, made by a former research assistant who has claimed she herself participated in the fraud.
Jayita Barua has accused assistant professor Anindita Ukil and her laboratory colleagues of fabricating data to generate scientific papers intended for submission to research journals and claimed she had also been part of "this game".
The university's investigation follows complaints by Barua, who earlier this month blocked the publication of a scientific paper she had co-authored with Ukil and colleagues by writing to an international journal that it was based on fabricated data.
Ukil, an award-winning cell biologist who has received grants from the department of science and technology, department of biotechnology and the University Grants Commission for research on infectious diseases, has denied data fabrication or scientific misconduct.
"I have full faith in our university - it has appointed an inquiry committee that is looking into this matter," Ukil told Metro. She said she had met university officials earlier this week and submitted documentary evidence of her innocence.
But the concerns raised by Barua, also expressed in an April 19 post on her Facebook page, have resonated with sections of scientists and scholars who have hailed her decision to expose what one senior scientist has described as "academic corruption."
Barua had sent an email to the Journal of Biological Chemistry on April 12, seeking withdrawal of her name as co-author of the paper, claiming it contained fabricated data, and attaching raw data to back her claim. She also alleged in the email that her colleagues, responding to a request from the JBC's art editor, had used pencil marks to cover up the data fraud.
The JBC on April 16 wrote to Ukil and other co-authors that it had decided to decline the paper.
"Serious allegations have been made regarding the integrity of the results... because of the nature of the allegations, we feel that any future review of this manuscript at the JBC will be compromised, therefore, there will be no option to revise or resubmit your paper," the journal wrote to the authors.
The JBC did not respond to a query from this newspaper whether the journal had declined the paper on the basis of the allegation from a co-author of the paper alone or had investigated the raw data that Barua had provided.
But Kaoru Sakabe, the JBC's data integrity manager, said "all matters regarding the review process (are) considered confidential."
In the post on her Facebook page and email to JBC, Barua has said she herself had taken part in the data fabrication activities in the laboratory. "I stayed silent just to save my degree, but now I understand this degree leaves me with nothing," Barua wrote to JBC.
In her Facebook post, Barua claimed she was uncomfortable with the work culture in the laboratory but "compromised".
"I told my seniors that I am uncomfortable in this work culture and they told me the same. But they never raised their voices against this to the guide. In fact, they stopped me from raising my voice. I was scared and stupid and I compromised," she wrote.
"In the meantime, this burden on my conscience started eating me up. Because I was also into this game. I forged data and I felt absolutely useless," she wrote in the post.
Ukil said Barua was not a regular National Eligibility Test-qualified scholar who earned her own fellowship as most others in her laboratory, but was dependent on a project-based salary.
"She was in our lab for four years and participated enthusiastically in all our activities. She has raised this issue now - after being told earlier this month that she could not be provided any new project fellowship," Ukil said. "Why she has done this is beyond my understanding."
CU vice-chancellor Sonali Chakarvarti Banerjee said a two-member committee had been set up to probe the allegation of data fraud. The dean of science, Madhusudan Das, and pro vice-chancellor, academic, Dipak Kar, are the members.
"I have told the complainant and the accused about our decision to constitute a probe committee. We will take a decision after the panel files its report," the VC said. Sources said the panel had been formed earlier this week and been given seven days to submit its report.