Connect to share and comment

In India, plagiarism is on the rise

Publish, perish or pilfer?

Kapil Sibal, minister in charge of higher education, attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 31, 2009. In February, Sibal, who was then India's minister of science and technology, told Parliament that the number of scientific research papers published in India stood at 22,215 in 2007, which was behind China's 67,433. Many blame the pressure to publish as contributing to a climate ripe for plagiarism. (Pascal Lauener/Reuters)

NEW DELHI, India — Two years ago, Raghunath Mashelkar, a leading science-policy expert, shocked Indian academia when he admitted that a book he co-authored in 2004 — about intellectual property — contained plagiarized text.

"I was working on so many things at the time that I took the help of researchers to add new information to what I had written," he told Science magazine. "Unfortunately, they copied verbatim from somebody else's writings. I know it is a sin. But I was so pressed for time that this skipped my attention."

Mashelkar later resigned as head of a government committee looking into Indian patent law after accusations surfaced that a section of a committee report he wrote was also plagiarized.

That one of India's top scientists is guilty of plagiarism points to a complex problem in Indian research, say academics, scientists and members of India's only watchdog group focused on research misconduct, the Society for Scientific Values.

Increasing pressure to publish, combined with a lack of oversight — and in some cases a lack of proper training for scientists — has created conditions ripe for plagiarism and other research misconduct, those experts say. That is particularly troubling at a time when India is expanding its higher-education system and hopes to engage further with academics outside the country to expand its research capabilities.

The Indian government has been worried about India's low research output for some time. In February, Kapil Sibal, who was then India's minister of science and technology, told Parliament that the number of scientific research papers published in India stood at just 22,215 in 2007, up from 11,067 a decade earlier. Sibal, now the minister in charge of higher education, noted that while Chinese academics published a similar number of papers in 1997 — 12,632 — that figure leapt to 67,433 by 2007. As a result, China contributes 8.6 percent of the world's scientific papers, a British study found, while India lags behind with a mere 2.4 percent.

To help close the research gap, last December Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doubled financing for science and technology research, to 2 percent of the gross domestic product, saying that newly industrializing nations like China and South Korea have "leapfrogged ahead of us by their mastery of science and technology."

In addition, revised rules for promotion and pay increases, which went into effect about a decade ago and were toughened when new pay scales were announced this year, link the number of published papers to promotions.

The resulting push to publish, combined with ignorance about what exactly constitutes plagiarism and research misconduct, has led to a rise in such incidents in the last eight to 10 years, observers argue. Meanwhile, the lack of both federal and institutional mechanisms that could detect and punish instances of misconduct have compounded the problem, say some scientists.