On Wednesday (August 4), the leftist news portal ‘The Print’ sparked a controversy after it alleged that 11 research papers published by acclaimed scientist Govardhan Das have been ‘flagged for manipulation.’
The article titled, “11 papers by JNU scientist & BJP candidate Das flagged for ‘manipulation’, he blames politics” has been authored by one Mohana Basu and edited by Amit Upadhyaya. The contentious piece relied on comments made by users in a post-publication peer-review journal called PubPeer. The site allows scientists to review and discuss published research work. A majority of critical comments of the said 11 research papers by Govardhan Das have been made over the span of the last 2 months.
Some of the research papers, that have come under the ‘spotlight’, date back to even 15 years. As such, it has raised suspicion of a motivated ‘political’ campaign, aimed at tarnishing the credibility of Govardhan Das. Despite being well aware that the critical comments on a peer-reviewed journal do not automatically imply a guilty conscience, The Print nevertheless tried to insinuate that Das’ research work on based on manipulation. With a deliberate choice of a clickbait headline, the leftist publication ensured that the misinformation was disseminated among its readers.
Govardhan Das responds to comments and queries about his research papers on PubPeer
It must be pointed out that Govardhan Das is the main author in 8 of the research papers and co-other in the remaining 3. The scientist-turned-BJP politician had responded to several queries posted on PubPeer. For instance, a user (Dr. Biskrensis) had asked as to why two images looked the same but were described differently.
Dr. Das conceded, “This is related to a correspondence published in Nature Medicine on Dec.12, 2006. We are sorry for the inadvertent mistake, a wrong micrograph for “C57BL/6-WT-CD8-depleted” in Figure 2A has been used. This paper was originally submitted as an article (NMED-PI27525) and was finally accepted as a correspondence. We have located the original Fig.5c (made on March 16, 2006 and attached below). This Fig.5c should have been used as the published Fig.2A. For some reason, during rearranging the panels for correspondence format, a wrong panel was used for “C57BL/6-WT-CD8 depleted”.”
The Print concedes that comments on PubPeer not proof of research fraud
With a curious and non-confrontational attitude, the scientist patiently explained the errors to Dr. Biskrensis and regretted the inconvenience caused. He had also responded to other such queries, which according to him were ‘minor’ and ‘not substantial’. Interestingly, The Print in its article had itself conceded that such comments on PubPeer were not proof of research fraud. The article said, “While the website is primarily used by scientists to discuss published work, people can also post on it anonymously… According to experts, comments on PubPeer are not in themselves proof of research fraud, but they can trigger probes. Editors of journals where the papers are published may take note and contact the researchers or the institution involved.”
Govardhan Das slams motivated political campaign, says willing to discuss science
In his defence, Govardhan Das told The Print that he was being targeted ever since he applied for a directorial post at a big institute. “I am an applicant for the directorship of a big institute and people are trying to pull me down. All of this (comments on PubPeer) has appeared after I applied for a directorship position. Whatever has been flagged is very minor, there is nothing substantial there. If anybody has any problem, I welcome them to talk to me directly, purely on science,” he said.
The scientist also added that it was not unusual for directors and researchers from institutes such as IISc and NCBS to be bombarded with such comments. He concluded, “If I refuse to make corrections when there are genuine mistakes, then there is a problem. But if I am willing to make corrections then what is the sense in maligning my name? “So far, nobody proved our papers are wrong. Targeting somebody without any proof is unethical and biased, especially when many others also have papers in the same site. Is it my political affiliation that is bothering some people?”