Update: On 4th October, 2017, I joined the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, as a Fellow in the Climate Change Mitigation and Development Programme in the Centre for Environment and Development.
Figure 1: Publication history of BARC and IGCAR directors (post 1970) as tracked by Scopus. Note the exceptional publication record of Baldev Raj when compared to all BARC and IGCAR directors post 1970 tracked by Scopus. We highlight Raj’s directorship years (2004-2011) and the five years (1999-2003) preceding it. The publication record peaks at 77 entries in 2011, the average through his tenure is an impressive 48.5 per year. (*Note that Raja Ramanna’s tenure includes a break from 1978-80 when S. Fariduddin was the Additional Director.)
Guest, gift and ghost authorship are the most common forms of unethical authorship practices. Guest and gift authorship are often offered to senior researchers and administrators in the expectation of increasing the chance of publication or visibility of a work or to gain other professional or personal benefits. Ghost authorship is the case when authorship is denied to a professional ghost writer or a researcher, possibly junior in hierarchy, despite their significant contribution to the publication. A rather perverse form of guest authorship is coerced authorship where a senior researcher or administrator demand unmerited authorship on a work where little contribution was made. Unethical authorship, especially coerced authorship, is a form of misconduct that is rather difficult to detect. In most cases, it remains undetected unless a coauthor raises a complaint with relevant research ethics bodies.
Academic databases like Scopus and Web of Science catalogue abstracts, citations, authors and other metadata of peer reviewed literature, books and conference proceedings. The long time series and near-universal coverage of a person’s publication record along with openly available external information such as a person’s work history, designations and positions in academia and research laboratories can be used to detect a pattern in authorship and construct plausible cases of unethical authorship, especially in rather egregious cases.
Gopi Rethinaraj and I find one plausible case, Dr. Baldev Raj, currently Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), and a former Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), one of the premier Department of Atomic Energy laboratories. This investigative work is easily reproducible and we show how anybody with access to Scopus can verify our results.
We compare the publication record of Raj and other Directors of IGCAR and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). We limit our interest to Directors post-1970. Scopus provides us with a near-complete record of the publication history of peer-reviewed publications of the DAE lab Directors. This, of course, leaves out internal documents and other reports and studies not tracked by Scopus. The tenure of BARC Directors and IGCAR Directors can be obtained from the linked webpages. We searched for the entire publication record for these names on Scopus. For those who have access to Scopus, our search strings for the Advanced Search option are in this file: scopus-search-strings.txt.
Our findings show a rather exceptional publication record for Baldev Raj. He has 714 Scopus tracked publications (his Publications list has 1300.). He authored 388 of the 714 articles during the period of his Directorship of IGCAR, about 54% of his total publications. He authored an astonishing 77 articles in 2011, the last year as Director.
Baldev Raj’s productivity is remarkably different from other highly productive Directors who have similar Material Science, Metallurgy or Chemistry backgrounds. In Figure 2 below, we plot the productivity of a select sample of these Directors who averaged at least 5 papers per year in the five year period (D-6, D-10), where D refers to the year they were appointed as Director. Only Baldev Raj’s productivity grows by a factor of eight.
Figure 2: Plot of productivity normalized by the average number of papers in the five year period (D-6, D-10), where D is the year of the start of tenure as Director. This plot also shows that the remarkable increase in authorship of Raj during his tenure as Director and in the five years preceding it. The productivity increases nearly eightfold from 10 publication per year to peak at 77 in the last year of his tenure. Raj’s productivity stands out compared to other highly productive Directors from similar Material Science and Chemistry backgrounds.
Finally, we look at the relative share of Baldev Raj’s publications in IGCAR publications. His publication increase in both absolute terms (by a factor of about eight) and as a relative share of IGCAR publications (by about two to three times).
Figure 3: Relative share of Baldev Raj in IGCAR publications over the period 1993-2011. Note the fairly steady and rapid rise in the share from about 7-8% to almost 20% in the last few years. Raj’s publications increased by a factor of almost 8 in the same period.
Baldev Raj’s productivity seems to rise with every promotion in the administrative organisation of IGCAR. He was the Director of the Materials and Metallurgy Group (MMG), IGCAR in the period 1993-2004 and also held the position of the Director of the Chemicals and Reprocessing Group (CRG), IGCAR during the period 1999-2004. And, he was the Director of IGCAR in the period 2004-2011 (See Curriculum Vitae) . Table 1 shows his average productivity in these periods.
Table 1: Baldev Raj productivity growth
|Average annual productivity
|1993-1998 (Dir., MMG*, IGCAR)
|1999-2003 (Dir., MMG* and CRG*, IGCAR)
|2004-2008 (first 5 years as Dir., IGCAR)
|2007-2011 (last 5 years as Dir., IGCAR)
|2011 (last year as Dir., IGCAR)
* (MMG, Materials and Metallurgy Group; CRG, Chemicals and Reprocessing Group)
This publication record is problematic and is quite likely a case of plausible unethical authorship practice.
Disclaimer: My review application for promotion and extension was rejected and my contract at the National Institute of Advanced Studies was terminated 30th June, 2017, with a three month notice period (till 30th September 2017) to wrap up and leave.