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[NEW DELHI] Cancer scientists at the National Centre for Cell Sciences in Pune, India, have manipulated data, according to an independent ethics watchdog.

In a report released last week (28 April), the Delhi-based Society For Scientific Values (SSV) said an entire research team was "guilty of misconduct for falsification/fabrication of data" in two papers published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) in 2004 and 2005.

The journal withdrew the scientists' papers in February 2007 amid allegations of data manipulation.

At the time, lead author Gopal Kundu told SciDev.Net that the decision of the journal to withdraw the papers was "drastic" (see India 'needs independent ethics body' says watchdog).

The SSV started examining the case in 2006 following a complaint from retired zoologist Sohan Modak, from the University of Pune. He pointed out that there were dubious similarities between data in two papers authored by Gopal Kundu, Hema Rangaswamy and Anuradha Bulbele.

Reacting to the SSV report, Kundu told SciDev.Net that the conclusions were not supported by analysis of the controversial data. He says the entire issue was intended to spoil the reputation of a reputed scientist who has published a large number of papers in high impact factor international journals in a short space of time.

The complaint also highlighted that the findings of a National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS) internal inquiry in 2006 ― which found the three scientists guilty of data manipulation ― was overruled by a second external inquiry later that year, called for by NCCS director G. C. Mishra.

This inquiry concluded that there was no substance to the charges, which were made with the "malicious intent" to spoil the NCCS's reputation.

In its report, the SSV noted that the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which is responsible for NCCS, had ignored repeated requests for information, including withholding the findings of the first committee.

The SSV report said, "It is extremely important for the authorities of NCCS and DBT to repair the damage to the reputation of Indian science caused by the JBC paper withdrawal and prove their commitment to research integrity and scientific values through their exemplary actions."

While the SSV can make recommendations, it does not have any legal powers to enforce any action.

Mishra told SciDev.Net last month that directly following the withdrawal of the papers, the NCCS issued a notice instructing all staff scientists to compile raw data and manuscripts themselves, and when enlisting the help of students and subordinates, to "make doubly sure that the data used are correct and preserved by them".

The notice warned scientists that they would be held solely responsible for any discrepancies noted after publication.