Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the way to cure cancer and to save humanity of all its problems in general, often using all possible plants and their parts to create nanoparticles. This is what one learns from certain publications which often appear in chemistry journals, where one can be quite sure no biologist was ever invited to peer review those. In fact, one wonders if anyone at all ever peer reviewed them. That is certainly the impression one gets from the evidence gathered by my now regular pseudonymous guest contributor, “Smut Clyde. Below, he will tell us a tale of the photoshopping team around the physicist Prashant Sharma at the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad, India. There are currently two dozens of Sharma papers flagged on PubPeer, several feature a regular coauthor Rashmi Madhuri, who was apparently threatening hers and Sharma’s critics with “an International cyber complaint and formal police complaint” and “a case of defamation of worth 50,000 $ (per author)”.

Besides already available PubPeer evidence of what looks like the most lazy approach to data photoshopping, Smut Clyde lists a case of a single cell culture microscopy image which found its way in no less but (currently) 8 papers by Sharma et al, in different context. There are also examples of some apparently very insolent cloning of nanoparticles and other stuff inside same image, that bad that one feels ashamed for everyone involved. Certainly for the respected journals.

In those cases, the expert nanotechnology editors and reviewers do not have an excuse to have missed the evidence of gross data manipulation due to being dazzled by heavy biology they are not really experts in. Here, it was obviously duplicated electron microscopy, spectra analyses and chemical reaction kinetics which did not at all look like they represented original experimental data. Maybe they are supposed to stand in as illustration, and the authors promised to send their real research data afterwards, and then forgot.

Except that in one case, Sharma et al did have to fix a publication with a Corrigendum, which apparently shows the same photoshopped collage, but slightly zoomed out. For the esteemed editor-in-chief of ACS Biomaterials and professor at Tufts University School of Engineering, David Kaplan, this was apparently good enough. The irony: this was only caught because the original manuscript version is available on the “pirate” site Sci-Hub, which hosts almost all paywalled scholarly publications. The same site, which ACS (American Chemical Society) just now successfully sued in US court and had several of its internet domains removed, to prevent nosy people from accessing ACS property without paying. All, as ACS declares: “for the benefit of Earth and its people”.

After the evidence against Sharma et al papers began to pop up on PubPeer, a strange thing happened. Massive wave of comments targeting many papers from Sharma’s institutional colleague at Indian School of Mines, Sagar Pal, appeared on PubPeer, which were basically randomly picked figures from Pal’s papers combined with a comment declaring those to be fake. The tone occasionally tried to emulate the jovial descriptions of irregularities found in Sharma et al papers. Yet those accusations were all without exception ridiculously empty and utterly unfounded, and indeed PubPeer removed them soon (possibly after my tweets).  Continue reading “Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?”