Gold nanoparticle paper crushed by “deliberate and fraudulent use of data”


Biotechnology Letters has retracted a paper on a new gene delivery technique due to “the deliberate and fraudulent use of data in the paper that had previously appeared in other papers of these two authors.”

The journal’s Editor in Chief Colin Ratledge told us that someone tipped him off that one of the authors, University of Kalyani microbiologist Keka Sarkar, had been self-plagiarizing:

I can say that a person who was familiar with the work of Dr Sarkar got in touch with about their concerns about her publications and, in particular, her paper published in Biotechnology Letters.  They supplied a dossier of her publications showing the obvious duplications of figures and that she had been using the same figures in different papers to illustrate the results from supposedly different experiments.

He found that, indeed, multiple figures in the Biotechnology Letters had appeared in other publications of Sarkar’s, some prior to the paper’s October 2013 publication, and one after. The details are in the whole retraction note:

A paper by Saptarshi Chatterjee and Keka Sarkar that was published in this journal is now retracted due to the deliberate and fraudulent use of data in the paper that had previously appeared in other papers of these two authors and in other papers of Dr Sarkar.

The paper in question is: “Surface-functionalized gold nanoparticles mediate bacterial transformation; a nanobiotechnological approach”; Biotechnology Letters 2014 36:265–271, by S Chatterjee and K Sarkar.

In this paper, the authors used previously published data from other publications of theirs: Chatterjee, Bandyopadhyay and Sarkar “Effect of iron oxide and gold nanoparticles on bacterial growth leading towards biological application” in Journal of Nanobiotechnology 2011 9:34

Two figures in the paper in Biotechnology Letters had been taken from this paper: Fig. 2c was identical to Fig. 3 in the J Nanobiotech paper and Fig. 4 (inset) was identical to Fig. 7 (left). No acknowledgement was given that these figures were identical. In addition, the two figures illustrated results from apparently different experiments.

In addition, Fig. 2c in the Biotech Letters paper was identical to a figure (Fig. 1) in another publication of Dr Sarkar and colleagues: “Bacterial growth response on interaction with iron oxide and gold nanoparticles: Measuring risk to the environment” IEEE 2011 (International Conference on Nanoscience, Technology and Societal Implications; doi 10.1109/NSTSI.2011.6111986) pages 1–6. Figure 2b in the IEEE publication was also repeated in the Biotechnology Letters paper (Fig. 4) without any acknowledgement of prior publication. Figure 2a in the Biotechnology Letters paper was also used without modification in another publication of this group: “Localized surface plasmon resonance-based DNA detection in solution using gold-decorated supraparamagnetic Fe3O4 nanocomposite”; Bandyopadhyay and Sarkar in Analytical Biochemistry 2014 465:156–163.

As we have been made aware of other duplications of data in other papers of Dr Sarkar, and also the use of other people’s data and figures as deliberate acts of plagiarism, we have come to the conclusion that this person has knowingly and deliberately used the same data and figures to illustrate results from different scientific experiments in her various publications. Therefore the veracity of the work in the paper of Chatterjee and Sarkar that was published in this journal, and indeed in other journals that have been published in the last five years, cannot be vouchsafed and must be regarded as fraudulent or potentially fraudulent. The paper in Biotechnology Letters is therefore retracted.

An inquiry into Dr Sarkar’s publications has been conducted by the Vice-Chancellor of her university (University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India). The charge of plagiarism against Dr Sarkar has been upheld and has resulted in a severe reprimand and restrictions being imposed on her concerning her future in the university.

The Analytical Biochemistry paper mentioned in the retraction note has not been retracted. William Jakoby, the Editor in Chief of that journal, told us:

I know of the problem which is going through the administrative process at Elsevier.

We contacted both authors on the retracted paper. Saptarshi Chatterjee, also a microbiologist at the University of Kalyani, sent us this statement:

The paper was original in idea. However one figure was mistakenly uploaded instead of the original which was unintentional. The same paper has also missed  the word inset in a figure which should have cited an other publication. Hence, the publication as retracted with permission of the authors.

We asked Chatterjee if he could provide a specific comment on the university’s charge of plagiarism against his co-author. He said:

I think even her part should not be questioned excluding the review of the paper. Unintentional mistakes should not attract imposition. Moreover when the plagiarism involved nothing but giving data from own previous work where the citation was mistakenly missed.

We contacted the University of Kalyani’s Vice Chancellor Rattan Lal Hangloo, and got this note from his spokesperson, Sohini Mukerji:

With reference to your email you are hereby informed that in respect of a complaint lodged by Prof. Colin Ratledge, Editor-in-Chief, Biotechnology Letters, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Hull, against Dr. Keka Sarkar an enquiry Committee was constituted. On the basis of the findings of the Enquiry Committee, the Executive Council of the University of Kalyani unanimously resolved that the case of plagiarism was established against Dr. Keka Sarkar.

It was further resolved two incremental benefit of Dr. Sarkar be stopped from the current financial year and her promotional benefit will be held up for five years from the current financial year.

This is issued with concurrence of the Hon’ble Vice Chancellor.

(We’re not quite sure what the university imposed on Sarkar based on the wording of the second paragraph, and have asked Mukerji to clarify.)

We have not yet heard back from Sarkar.

The article has only been cited once, by the retraction note itself, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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