After article on data manipulation was recalled, NCBS storms ‘harassment’ accusations

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TIFR Examines Research Practices Amid Allegations That Students Are Under Considerable ‘Pressure’ From Their Superiors

Behind the recent withdrawal of a scientific paper from the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, because it relied on manipulated data, are allegations of undue pressure on students by their superiors, often at risk of harming their career, The Hindu has learned.

As controversy at one of India’s most prestigious labs erupted over a research paper, the issues it raised have now prompted a re-examination of research practices as well as a committee inquiry. of Academic Ethics from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). The TIFR is the parent body of the NCBS.

On Friday evening, a press note from the director of TIFR said: “Recently, allegations of academic misconduct were made in the press and social media against TIFR-NCBS faculty member Dr Arati Ramesh. The withdrawal of the Nature Chemical Biology article with Dr. Ramesh as the lead author came after a full investigation, as required by NCBS policies on research misconduct, into the data trail linked to images in the Nature Chemical Biology article that showed evidence of manipulation. . The Board of Directors of the SPNE has been informed of this investigation. The committee’s final report is currently under review by the TIFR Academic Ethics Committee, which will determine whether further investigation and / or action is warranted.

On October 5, 2020, the article “Discovery of iron-sensingbacterial riboswitches” was published online in the reputable journal Nature Chemistry Biology.

Its listed authors were Siladitya Bandyopadhyay, Susmitnarayan Chaudhury, Dolly Mehta and Arati Ramesh, the latter of whom was the group leader and is a professor at NCBS. The article gained media attention based on its findings, as it was the first example of an RNA molecule capable of detecting iron, opening up the possibility of designing specialized iron sensors. Bandopadhyay was a doctorate. Student.

Days after publication, anonymous reviewers on PubPeer – a site for discussing research articles after publication – reported anomalies in images submitted with the research article as evidence. Dr Ramesh initially defended the sanctity of the images but informed the Institute, which set up an investigative committee which, after investigation, recommended that the document be retracted. The Hindu had reported it on July 7.

A postscript, warning that there were issues with the diary’s data, appeared with online versions of the diary as early as December 2020, but the document was not officially retracted until June 30, 2021. The official reasons cited were: “… due to data integrity and reproducibility issues … and the authors concerned did not have access to the raw data from these experiments. In a statement, Dr Ramesh added that the ‘student responsible for the act “.. left the lab abruptly a few days after the investigation (without delivering the correct constructs / strains related to this project and without sharing some of the raw data).”

The committee concluded that the images were manipulated by a single individual, Mr. Bandopadhyay. They did so after interviewing members of Dr. Ramesh’s lab and accessing raw data from the Ramesh lab’s hard drives and backup servers connected to the analysis instruments. In the first week of December, Mr. Bandopadhyay left NCBS after obtaining a certificate of no objection from the institution.

Published correspondence

Freelance journalist Leonid Schneider, on his website For better science, on July 14, disclosed for the first time an email correspondence between Mr. Bandopadhyay, the investigation committee and the director of the institute, Satyajit Mayor.

In correspondence, Mr Bandopadhyay said that he and other members of the lab found that even though RNA molecules were sensitive to iron, the numbers to prove it were not close to the theoretical expected value and the Dr Ramesh has repeatedly insisted that the results are what she thought they should be.

Without questioning the manipulation of the data, he suggested that the overall culture of the lab was oppressive. “When I joined the lab in 2017, I didn’t even know how to pour an agarose gel or even how to do a simple PCR (polymerase chain reaction). I was told that I had to replicate the data generated by someone in the lab and if that doesn’t happen, I will never be able to stay in the lab, ”the emails say. “… Since the first day I walked into the lab in December 2017, I saw someone manipulating data. “

The Hindu independently verified that these emails were indeed written by Mr. Bandopadhyay to investigators. A person familiar with the debates in the Ramesh lab around the RNA detection experiment said that while it was not unusual for lab leaders or principal investigators (PIs) to be tough on their Associates or their students, Dr Ramesh threatened members with dire consequences, such as blocking their academic progress, if the results were not consistent. “There were other students and members of his lab who complained about harassment. Several students leave the lab because of the hostile working environment, ”said this person The Hindu.

Dr Ramesh did not respond to requests for comment.

The director of the institute, the mayor of Satyajit, said The Hindu that the committee’s mandate was precisely to determine at what stage the data was being manipulated. However, beyond the issue of data fraud, the institute was “seriously taking up” these allegations of pressure, he said.

“Considering that there has been fraud committed by an individual in the lab, and that there are allegations of pressure and a stressful atmosphere, we take the allegations of harassment very seriously and do NOT endorse the behavior. abusive in any form on our campus. We are following due process to investigate these allegations, working closely with the Ramesh Lab to assess changes and progress, and re-evaluating our research integrity processes to ensure that similar events do not recur at NCBS ” , said Dr Mayor.



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