UPDATE: August 8, 2007
Current Science has published my letter on the subject, with a response by G. Padmanaban. My response to his response is here.

UPDATE: August 11, 2007
Pradeep Kumar has a valuable comment (that I reproduce at the bottom of this page).

UPDATE: March 8, 2008
It would appear that the 2005 paper was not the only dubious one: a letter in Current Science by S. Mahadevan (IISc) points out that a different journal withdrew a 2006 paper saying it was a republication of the same 2004 paper discussed below.

UPDATE: April 15, 2008
The Telegraph has a long article on fraud in Indian science, and quotes G Padmanaban as saying that JBC's decision in withdrawing the paper was not "wrong", but "harsh". If Padmanaban stands by his report, how could the JBC decision be not "wrong"? Inquiring minds want to know. (It could, of course, be a misquote. But one of the authors of the Telegraph article, G S Mudur, told me that the quote is exact.)

Also, it turns out that Kundu's defence for the duplicated paper in 2006 is that it was a conference proceedings paper, not new research. However, it was nowhere identified as such: it gave every impression of being a new paper, even citing the 2004 paper in the manner of older work.

This is a visual experiment I made related to the allegations against Kundu et al. described in this report (page 2) from the Society for Scientific Values. My interest in this was piqued by recent articles in Current Science.

The allegations are that several images from this paper, purporting to describe Western blots, have in fact been borrowed from this paper (by the same authors), where they purport to describe Western blots of quite different proteins.

The allegations were investigated by a committee chaired by Prof G. Padmanaban, who declared that the images were different. Their methodology does not seem to be available publicly. Meanwhile, the journal (the Journal of Biological Chemistry), following its own investigation, has chosen to withdraw the second paper.

Below, I illustrate the allegations via animated GIFs. All images were taken from the fullsize images in the online versions of the papers in question; in all cases, one image is unmodified, and the others are scaled to fit on top of the first, but otherwise unmodified (except for the slight lossiness inherent in the GIF format, and in example 5, a lateral inversion). The black borders, too, are from the original papers and unmodified here.

The text of the accusations is taken from the SSV report. "Paper I" refers to this 2004 paper, and "Paper II" refers to this 2005 paper.

  1. SSV: "The strips used in the lower panels of FIg. 1B of paper I and Fig. 1B in paper II are the same, but denote different proteins, NIK and MEKK1."

  2. SSV: "The strips used in the lower panels of FIg. 1A of paper I and Fig. 1A in paper II are the same, but denote different proteins, actin and MEKK1."

  3. SSV: "The same strip from Fig. 3B (bottom panel from paper I) was also used for Fig. 1c and 1d in paper II, again denoting different proteins."

  4. SSV: "The strip in Fig. 3B (top) are the same in both paper I and paper II."

  5. SSV: "The strips used in the lower panels of Fig. 3A and B in Paper I are flip-flops of each other, though they represent the same protein and one lane is missing. Eg: 2, 3, 4, 5 vs 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."
    [NOTE: This means Paper I, which has not been withdrawn by the journal, may not be above suspicion either. Also, in conjunction with point 3, it would suggest that this is one of the most over-used strips ever. - RS]

  6. SSV: "Both the strips in the figure 7C of Paper I have been reused in fig. 6A of paper II. While actin is common to the bottom panel in both cases, in the top panel, the same strip was used to denote ERK in one case and MEKK in another case, with different values."
    [NOTE: I have cut out both strips in each paper as one unit, without repositioning; the second image was scaled as a single unit, without change in aspect ratio, to fit on top of the first. -RS]

    [NOTE: I updated this alignment on June 26, 2007, with an improved version, and I describe exactly how I did this. I picked this example for improved alignment since it seems particularly instructive, consisting as it does of two strips.]

  7. SSV: "The top panels of FIg. 6A and 8A of paper II use the same strip to denote upa and c-jun."

UPDATE - June 28, 2007: I have removed the rest of this page.
UPDATE - August 8, 2007: As noted above, my letter to Current Science has been published, with a response by G Padmanaban; I discuss his response here. I don't intend to discuss the subject further unless something new and interesting comes up.

UPDATE - August 11, 2007:
Pradeep Kumar says (in reply to an interesting summary by T A Abinandanan):

If Kundus group had used Molecular Dynamics (Now part of GE) phosphorimager, an instrument very common and which I daily use, to scan their Western blot gels, its not that difficult to find out wheather or not they have provided the same images for two different experiments. The simple thing to do use is to open the raw file in Image Quant (the program supplied with the machine) and find out the date and time on which gels were scanned. If you double click on the auto radiogram a GEL INFO window will pop up and that exactly will give you the information you are looking for. If both the gels shows the the same time and day of scan and if both the images have same counts (some thing like pixels which the program calculates) then there is no doubt that both the auto radiograms are absolutely same. But if they had purposefully scanned the gels after different times of exposure, it will be slightly more complicated to figure out the similarities. But still it is possible. Let Kundu or Padmanabhan or NCCS provides the original auto radiogram files (the raw data from the machine) for a third party scrutiny to validate their claims. Any discussion using TIF or JPEG figures from JBC publication will have little credibility than the same discussion after comparing the raw data from machine.
I did not know this was possible, but presumably the committee knew. Did they look into it?

June 23, 2007
Contact me