0. This post puts together a series of tweets I wrote last week or so. This post was meant to be uncharacteristically short because I am once again down with cough (together with 1/4th if not 1/2 of Pune). Those anti-histamines tend to make you both hazy and lazy. But then, as I began typing, it exceeded 3000 words! You are warned.
1. The whole thing began with charges of plagiarism by Prof. Ashok Kumar, a faculty with the department of biological sciences and bioengineering, at IIT Kanpur. Look up the ‘net for more information. The charges seem serious because Elsevier also issued a retraction notice, for lifting materal from, of all sources, Wikipaedia!! According to the “Nanopolitan” blog maintained by Prof. Abinandanan of IISc Bangalore, this was the first time that an IIT faculty was being implicated for plagiarism charges.
The blogosphere immediately went abuzz with expressions of shock, disgust, anger, “WTF” etc. Understandably so.
What I failed to understand was the reason why was the community would get so agitated. … Don’t get me wrong. My reasons to failing to understand them have nothing to do with supporting plagiarism but instead wanting to put the issue in context.
Plagiarism is detestable, I thought, but having observed the research and academic community’s reactions (or rather, the absence of such a thing as any reaction at all) over other similar issues for more than past two decades, I began to wonder why this obsession with plagiarism itself.
I mean, when it comes to the lack of integrity, in particular, the scientific integrity, there are umpteen other ways absolutely to go wrong too. And, to my dismay, I have found that many of those who are most (or most influentially) vocal against plagiarism, or their very near colleagues have been caught, by none other than me, say with their pants down. (I can cite at least two Padma awardees in this list.)
And then, what really bugged me down was Prof. Abinandanan’s not-so-recent and still continuing tirade against Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, FRS, one of persons of (recent) Indian science that I happen to admire most.
In Abi’s case, there seemed to be something going beyond mere personal grouches. After all, I recall that in the year 2003 I had applied to his department for a PhD admission, with two conditions: I will supply my own research topic, and I will not disclose all the information in publications, in view of any possible internatioal patents.
His department (Abi was with them back then too, and so feel free to take the absence of his comments to this post as merely affirmation of the remaining parts of this sentence) was at best most mildly lukewarm to the first idea (namely that I will work on my project idea) and at best mildly antogonistic to the second (with “If patents and all is what you want to do, doing PhD here will be impossible” being an average reply).
Notice also that by that time (2003), in India, not only IIT Bombay and IIT Kharagpur, but also the University of Pune had already put in place an Intellectual Property Rights policy. The UoP part is in part surprising because the rest of the IITs—and Abi’s IISc—had not done so. It is not so surprising when you realize that Dr. Mashelkar was actively promoting IPRs both within CSIR and outside of it, and with NCL PhDs being attached with UoP, had considerable influence at UoP.
Juxtapose these two sets of facts, and you begin to get a sense of what I am driving at: namely, that there seems to be more than a mere personal grouch when Abi, or any other IISc, JNU, Calicut/Kochi etc. professor (or, for the sake of completeness, say a minion of Jairam Ramesh BTech IIT Bombay’s), begins to attack people like Mashelkar.
A bit personal about why I add Ramesh here. When I was being “followed up” in Indu Jain’s Times of India during those shining BJP years, two names, I noticed, stood out in actively participating in those follow-ups. One: Dr. Vasant Gowariker (I guess an uncle of Ashutosh Gowariker’s). Two: an “intelligent” and “good-looking” politician (by his own admission) and an (I am sure permanently) aspiring eco-terrorist, Jairam Ramesh. Contrast: One prominent personality who did not fall to their low standards despite himself writing frequently for Times of India in those days (but who also didn’t help me in any real sense, beyond library help) was: Prof. Jayant Narlikar.
Let me put it bluntly. The matter begins to smell of a dead rat (or rotten fish, if you are a Bengali), when a person, or group, or network of them is consistently vocal against plagiarism, but equally consistently shy of commenting on any other violations of scientific integrity—no matter how blatant—and then also manages to summon the muscle power to rant against people of the character and stature of Mashelkar’s.
Yet, I don’t think the rants against Mashelkar are worth taking a serious note of. Furthermore, I would rather let Dr. Mashelkar speak for himself—if he thinks there is a need to do so. Here, on my blog I would rather focus on the sufferings and setbacks that I myself have had to face and endure (and have to continue doing so) because of an academic-research-scientific establishment of low scientific integrity. Most notably, including IIT Bombay and IISc Bangalore.
3. Plagiarism is one way to lost integrity. But, is it the only one? Can you think of any other?
While writing tweets, rather on the fly, I could think of the following. Please see if you can add to these:
- Denying admission to a PhD program if a candidate, otherwise fully qualified and shortlisted and all, says that he has already formulated the main research topic for his PhD, and, for various contextual reasons, would be interested in pursuing only that topic. (He is willing to name specific topics for at least three anticipated research papers, but the committee discussion is either steered or, worse, “evolves” in such a way that he cannot get to that part at all, but instead is laughed at.)
- Studied ignorance of even dramatic claims (such as first in 200 years). Need I comment more?
- Declining to examine a PhD thesis even if there are 5+ peer-reviewed internatioal conference papers as a support material.
- Declining to examine a PhD thesis even if the candidate claims that it involves only such mathematics as can be understood by an undergraduate of engineering, on the grounds that “I don’t understand it,” and “it is not my specialization,” or, this gem: “I will have to learn new things before I undestand it, for which, I have no time.” (More than one person said it, and not all had been graduated by the University of California at Berkeley.)
- Refusal to reply emails
- concerning the singularity at the envelope of a vortex ring, sent to a guy who has an American PhD in CFD, is a faculty at an IIT, and yaps a lot on the ‘net (including against Ayn Rand)
- concerning voxel-based processing, sent to an Indian gal, who has an American PhD in graphics, is a faculty in an American university
- concerning quantum mechanical wave particle duality (sent to many)
- Improper rejection of paper: Did the CERN people really reject my paper for considerations of a perceived lack of merit? What do you think? Or was it because I explicitly cited Ayn Rand, taking the care to cite a least controversialpiece—to the effect that we should not reject alternative hypotheses or theories without due consideration. Can anything get more mainstream in science? And, if not, quoting Professor T. A. Abinandanan, let me ask: “WTF were you folks thinking?” (Disclosure: Prof. Abinandanan is not related to me by way of affiliation, employer, discipline—or philosophic convictions.)
- Not answering queries posted at collegial blogging fora such as iMechanica. Studied silence, in short.
- Grabbing prizes (up to Rs. 50 lakhs, no less) for work on “quantum gravity” but declaring, physically sitting across the table and to the face of an official PhD student, that one does not know the quantum wave-particle duality—not even sufficiently to the extent that a simple two-part paper claiming to resolve it, already published, can be read and commented upon. What more proof do you want the corruption of the scientificspirit (i.e. the lack of moral integrity for doing science and occupying positions in institutions funded by the tax-payer’s money) is rampant. (In Indian media, they often use the term “rampant” in such a way that without consulting a dictionary, one might conclude that it means “wide-spread.” The actual meaning is: standing upright—but on the hind-legs. The term applies to animals, as they assume an attacking posture. That’s what rampant means. Not afraid of assuming a towering posture so as to win a fight, but in the context of animals other than Man. (Yes, Indian media, go ahead, take your revenge—use this word from now onwards for certain politicians like Mr. Sharad Pawar.) )
- Raising non-relevant issues: For example. You talk of potential flow as the simplified case, relevant only as the first step towards the Helmholtzian fields (the linear second-order PDEs). The person (a researcher, not an industrial engineer) goes: So, have use used fluent for modeling multi-phase flows? Don’t laugh. It would be a matter of incompetence if done honestly. It is a matter of shamelssly dropping integrity because it can be, and is routinely done deliberately. Here is another example of the same kind: You arrange to tell an Emeritus Professor of Physics that after 1.5 years, finally, two people have agreed to examine the PhD thesis, but the topic is such that if the third examiner is a physicist, it would be great. The guy (with a US PhD and IIT teaching experience—with one of his female students heading a group at IISc) goes: “The problem seems to be well defined. He might have done some work. (Huh!) But, since I am not a computational physicist, I cannot examine this.” What kind of integrity-keeping is that, Professor Sharad Patil—especially if you know that the guy has been made to run from the post to the pillar even after paper publications and for 1.5 years after thesis submission? What kind of integrity-keeping is that, Huzurpaga-trained Professor Rohini Godbole? (This nullifies the media significance of quoting Sharad Pawar above. Recently, the local dailies like the daily Sakal—which, unlike at least three other Marathi newspapers including Lokmat, didn’t publish the news of my PhD, what with a Dalit-Bramhim combo editing the show—had published pix showing Mr. Pawar attending a function at Huzurpaga, and similar ones for IIT Bombay etc. But yes, keep aside the media significance, but one would still want to raise that question, pertaining specifically to the virtue of integrity. )
- Asking to study irrelevant matters. Not always a fool-proof indicator of lack of integrity (and, for that matter, nothing is!). But consider this. You say you have a new theory that has testable new consequences. The guy goes: “Better learn XYZ theory first.” Examples: A loathesome guy (I mean a Professor) from IISc recently asked me to first study Feynman’s theory. He, thus, evaded the responsibility of judging the merits of my approach. And, notice, I wasn’t even saying: “My theory correctly reproduces every result as predicted by the standard theory.” I most emphatically was not saying: “I have reformulated the entirety of QM.” In that hypothetical case, the IISc professor might, hypothetically perhaps, have been justified. After all, there are loonies too. But, still, I say, that IISc professor might only be hypothetically justified. The reason? I am a mainstream and official PhD, with proper mainstream publication avenues, with proper mainstream earlier academic credentials (including the very public interaction with other mainstream academics and researchers on the ‘net). And, regardless, I was not saying I have reformulated the entirety of QM. What made this IISc professor go so arrogant? (If you think that he is the sort who thinks that none should talk about QM without 10 years of university education and post-doc experience, consider this: this guy does not mind being a “guide” to his school-going child who wins a prize abroad for an innovative paper on QM that employs the Dirac bra-ket notation. Tell me, can this child be such a genius? Or, given the prevaling mores and ethos in Indian science, it is more likely that the parent wrote the paper and the kid played around with the toy and was told enough things (and even understood enough things) that an infinitesimal but nonzero chance does exist for the kid to claim co-authorship? Any comments on that IIT Bombay Gold Medalist IISc Professor Apoorva Patel? And, oh, don’t feel that you have no company. Paddy’s daughter, Padma, happened to win a similar (or the same) prize while still only in her BSc program, and it was a pure coincidence that her paper had a treatment of electrodynamics in a vein remarkably similar to her father’s (and also that one hasn’t heard too many advances being made by her since winning the Award). Again, let me emphasize who I am (or, regardless of my admittedly poor writing style) against. It isn’t the kids (even though I name them). It is: their parents. I have seen enough incompetents walk away with enough trophies that a couple of prizes here don’t make a difference to me. (For that matter, I myself had won many trophies while in school—at least 2/3 every year, if not 4/5—and distinctly remember not even just wanting not to display them, such a thing showing a certain gross-ness, but even offering consoling words to them that it didn’t matter we lived in such a middle-of-middle homes that there couldn’t even be a decent place to keep a show-case in which could be displayed those trophies. Yes, I was that … and what’s the word I want here? … phlegmatic? abstract? Whatever, I was that unconcerned about winning even while in school. I have not changed in this respect a lot since then. So, certainly, my point isn’t these kids. It is: their Professor parents (and Profesor “uncles,” “aunties,” etc.) If a person comes to you with a new thoery which he says can lead to a new prediction, are you going to ask him to go back and hit library, even while “guiding” one’s own school-going kid in this way? I ask you: The two things taken together, is this, or is this not, a violation of scientific integrity? Yes or No?
- Releaseing enticing advertisements for post-doc positions (or industy employment), only to not even acknowledgment the receipt of the application. Of course I do mean the IIT Bombay alumnus and UC Davis Professor Sukumar. But he emphatically is not alone. The situation is so pathetic that, as far as iMechanica is concerned, I cannot be sure of any job advertisements coming anywhere from USA or Europe except for those from a very very few groups, notably, that of John Dolbow, a few from Technion—but none from Oxford, Cambridge, or much of the rest of Europe. (I also include here my observations of the “evolution” of paper submission at arXiv, over the past 5+ years.) Games playing is at an all time high. And, I, personally, have maintained enough integrity to say that their integrity is at an all time low.
I could go on. But it already has exceeded 2,500 words.
Therefore, I have no stamina left for what, I hoped in the beginning, would be the last 1/4 or 1/3 part of this post. Namely, the standards employed for awarding tenure at MIT, and the Indian scientist’s intense desire (as judged from their actions at the time of PhD admissions) to determinedly play only a Second Fiddle to the likes of the MIT.
I may come back and try to finish this part sometime later. No guaruntees, because one of my conference papers has been accepted and I have to finish writing software for it as well as the paper itself, by this month-end. As such, I will have no time to blog for the rest of the month. At least, I should avoid doing so unless the software and the paper is complete. I will try to avoid the temptation, but, sure, leave me alone for a while. (I have observed that I begin to get psychic tensions, if not attacks, if there is a longer gap between blog-posts and even tweets. These California/American pscychics—and possibly their “friends” and co-forces elsewhere) aren’t going to stop. But, yes, there is almost a computer-game like precision to what they do. There is a psychic tension if (i) I don’t post, or (ii) other people (preferably those from USA) don’t write back me emails, (iii) other people don’t release posts or articles even if 2-3 degrees (out of the famous six degrees of separation) favoring one of my recent positions, and (iv) any or all of the above. Given the precision, I feel sure that the US government’s psi-forces must be responsible for so attacking me. If not that, then, Christianity. Such a precision—and regularity across a span of a decade-plus of time— would be possible only to those bustards and bitches who are protected by a fifty-year discolure deadline, or the hierachy-upon-hierarchy and country-after-county network believing in psi-forces. (The communists among the bustards and bitches are networked—but outside of their ruling governments, they don’t believe in the existence of the psi-forces. And, going by my experience—the timing and all—the matter concerns the mystics of the soul. Might as well add. I did suspect (and still do look out for the possibility of) the BJP being in this. But, frankly, once they were out of the power at the center, I don’t think I have received any attacks from them. (Unlike what many people imagine, the attacks are not random. They have a sharp purpose of wanting to influence opinions, policy, etc. That is the reason why one can make out who could possibly be behind the attacks at any given moment—via a process which, I think, could be said to the method of systematic elimination.))
So, leave me alone. (Or, make up by writing me emails/comments, more uniformly distributed, over the next two weeks.) I have a paper to finish, and, not just a paper, but also a piece of software—all by myself, without having a couple of IISc/IIT Bombay graduate students, and far more importantly, their library facilities, at my disposal. The MIT tenure policy is an interesting matter (LOL!—at them), but it can wait.
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A Song I Like
(Hindi) “gayaa andheraa, hua ujaalaa, chamka chamka subah kaa taaraa…”
Singers: Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar
Music: C. Ramachandra
Lyrics: Noor Lucknowi
[Corrected the song credits; thanks gaddeswarup. However, this post still is to be updated, edited and streamlined after a week or so, in any case, not in the very immediate future.]