According to a post by Prasad Ravindranath, Posted on July 31, 2019, Dr. Mamta Chawla-Sarkar, a senior scientist at ICMR’s NICED has 16 papers listed on PubPeer for image duplication and/or manipulation. Six of these papers were published when she was a Post-doc in Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio. She is a Fellow of the National Academy of Science.
A senior scientist — Dr. Mamta Chawla-Sarkar — in Kolkata’s National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (ICMR-NICED) has 16 papers listed on PubPeer website for image duplication and/or manipulation. Besides the 16, a paper published in 2014 in PLOS ONE carries a correction for image duplication.
Ten papers listed on the website have been published when Dr. Chawla-Sarkar has been a scientist at NICED while the remaining papers were published when she was a Post-doc with Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
All the papers with problematic images were verified by Dr. Elisabeth Bik, who is an expert in identifying duplication and manipulation in images. In addition, she had herself posted a few of Dr. Chawla-Sarkar’s papers with problematic images on PubPeer. In fact, on July 13, Dr. Bik did tweet one of Dr. Chawla-Sarkar’s manipulated images and asked if others could spot the manipulation.
Following the email interaction with her, the authors have responded on PubPeer for seven papers highlighted on the website. One of the responses is: “As authors, we have gone through the concern raised here. We would be communicating to the journal editor at the earliest with all the relevant data files.”
Though there is clear evidence of manipulation in many images, Dr. Chawla-Sarkar insists and vehemently denies image manipulation in any of her papers. Dr. Bik counters saying: “It is hard to imagine how duplicated bands within figures could have resulted by honest error.”
According to the NICED website, Dr. Chawla-Sarkar is “involved in studying two viruses namely influenza virus and rotavirus”. The focus of her research is “strain surveillance, host-virus interaction and identifying cellular proteins involved in viral pathogenesis for developing potential antiviral targets”. She oversees “influenza surveillance” in NICED and was “responsible for providing laboratory support for states in Eastern India during the A/H1N1 pandemic in 2009”.
In 2013, Dr. Chawla-Sarkar was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Science. She won the National Women Bioscientist Award given by the by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in 2013. In recent years, she has won the ICMR Kshanika Oration Award 2017 and Fellowship of the West Bengal Academy of Science and Technology (FWAST) 2018.
“As far as word image manipulation is concerned, I do not agree as we have not manipulated or fabricated any data. The blots are scanned predominantly by the scholars and assembled into final figure but why would they manipulate images when they have reproducible data. Repetitive background elements that are shown here might come from manual handling while developing and scanning and are completely unintentional. We were even unaware of these until pointed out by PubPeer,” she says in an email.
“I am sure that the conclusions in the papers are valid because we repeat [the] experiment multiple times before conclusion [sic]; each conclusion in the figure is validated by at least two or three different assays. When a paper is submitted, reviewers are not satisfied until we prove the conclusion by multiple assays. Moreover, I check the raw data autorads when the data is presented in lab meetings,” she adds.