This blog post expresses my personal opinion. It is not an accusation of misconduct.
In my last post, I wrote about a large set of around 200 problematic papers, all from research groups at Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, India.
There are two additional problem sets.
Eleven more papers
Today, after a tip from a reader, I found another set of papers (n=11) from an Annamalai Assistant Professor at the troubled Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology. These papers appear to have been republishing the same data, have very narrow ranges of standard deviations in animal measurements, or appear to have image problems.
The image problems with this new set included overlapping photos, such as this one here. The blue box shows an area that appears to be visible in two different photos that each represent a different experiment.
Then, there were some other, more concerning image issues. Here, you see four photos that are representing liver tissues from differently treated rats. However, the top left and bottom right panel appear to share the areas marked in dark blue and light blue, while other areas are visible multiple times within the same photo.
In this photo, two SDS-PAGE gels (to separate proteins) are shown. The dark horizontal lines are called “bands”. Each band is a protein of a different size, and each vertical column represents a different sample. But upon close inspection, several areas appear to be visible multiple times, highlighted here with boxes of the same color.
Fourteen papers from the Vice-Chancellor
Last year, Annamalai University announced the appointment of their new Vice-Chancellor. In India, this position is the head of a university, comparable to the position of president or rector in other countries (as per Wikipedia). Before he accepted his new job as the VC of Annamalai University, the new VC had been a professor at another university which is (somewhat confusingly) call Anna University.
According to this Times of India article, the new VC “has guided 35 research scholars and 163 international research papers to his credit“.
And, according to an Annamalai website, “In recognition of his phenomenal and significant contribution to porous materials, the journal ‘Advanced Porous Materials’ published a special volume commemorating his 65th birthday.” A quick Google search for that journal’s name combined with the VC’s last name, did not yield any results. (Update: a reader provided the link to the special issue in the comments below. All articles in the issue are behind a hefty paywall of $106 each).
In addition, “He has made it mandatory for scholars to publish at least one paper in journals with impact factor which not only benefited the students but also the university in general.“
Unfortunately, at least 14 of the VC’s papers, published during his tenure at Anna University, have image problems.
This photo of striped nanoparticles that looks a bit like a laughing dolphin, for example, appeared to have been used in two different scientific publications to represent different concoctions. Here is a side by side comparison.
In other papers, graphs appear to be showing the exact same background noise patterns.
My personal favorite of the new VC’s scientific career is this photo of nanoparticles. It just has so many axes of symmetry!
In case you cannot appreciate its beauty, here is a version in which I highlighted crystals that looked – ahem – unexpectedly similar. There are still a bunch of cat-eye-like structures left for you to find!
Now that Annamalai University is headed by the person under whose responsibility these kaleidoscopic images were published, there is little hope that the university will take complaints about figure duplication or manipulation seriously.
Are you a current or past member of a lab at Annamalai or Anna university who wants to tell me about what happened behind the scenes of these concerning images? I would love to hear from you. I promise I will keep your information confidential. I just want to learn more about what drives scientists to do this. Thank you!