Ethics of Scientific Research C. K. Raju Why ethics is important



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Ethics of Scientific Research

  • C. K. Raju


Why ethics is important

  • We rely on “experts” to assess new technologies.

  • Unethical “expert” opinion may lead to wrong choices

  • And puts entire society at risk.



Law inadequate to guard against this risk, because law differs from ethics.

  • Law inadequate to guard against this risk, because law differs from ethics.

  • Something illegal may be ethical,.

    • E.g. Gandhi ji broke the unethical salt law.
  • Something legal may be unethical

    • E.g., Mashelkar’s 100 trips on WIPO invitation legal, but
      • After that if he advises government on intellectual property,
      • that is unethical, for it involves conflict of interests.


Talking about ethics is easy.

  • Talking about ethics is easy.

  • BUT

  • Talk of ethics rarely translates into action.

  • Why?



To understand this

  • To understand this

  • I will present a bottom-up view



Bottom-up it is obvious

  • Bottom-up it is obvious

    • why talk of ethics does not translate to action:
  • Ethics in action is dangerous.



In the country of the blind, the two-eyed man is blinded—H. G. Wells.

  • In the country of the blind, the two-eyed man is blinded—H. G. Wells.

  • In an unjust society, ethical action is a threat, and therefore the ethical man is punished.





As a Ph.D. student (at IIT and ISI Delhi)

  • As a Ph.D. student (at IIT and ISI Delhi)

  • I protested plagiarism by my guide.

  • I was hounded for the next 30 years.

  • (A student who helped him got the Young Scientist award, Bhatnagar award etc.)

  • Lesson: it pays to be unethical, and hurts to be ethical.



I resigned from a permanent govt. job at Poona Univ.

  • I resigned from a permanent govt. job at Poona Univ.

    • on the grounds that “corruption, hence incompetence, had got institutionalised”.
  • The Univ. accepted this!

  • Lesson: Ethical (and competent) people are eliminated one way or another.



Raja Ramanna stated a mathematical absurdity in a seminar.

  • Raja Ramanna stated a mathematical absurdity in a seminar.

  • I objected, and walked out,

  • but others kept quiet.

  • Lesson: Complicity through inaction can be carried to absurd extremes.

  • Details.



Having learnt these lessons (and more) why am I still talking of ethics?

  • Having learnt these lessons (and more) why am I still talking of ethics?

  • Because injustice is not inevitable.

  • E.g. During the freedom struggle many people maintained high ethical standards.

  • Injustice prevails because we allow it to.



Let us try to reduce ethical pollution.

  • Let us try to reduce ethical pollution.



Here is the main case study (bottom-up viewpoint).

  • Here is the main case study (bottom-up viewpoint).



In my 1994 book, I proposed

  • In my 1994 book, I proposed

  • 1. functional differential equations (FDE).

  • 2. as a new paradigm for physics.

  • 3. and proved this explained key features of quantum mechanics.



Please note these three points.

  • Please note these three points.

  • 1. Using FDE leads to

  • 2. a new paradigm for physics, and

  • 3. could explain quantum mechanics.



FDE approach useful for

  • FDE approach useful for

    • molecular dynamics and
    • many-body problem
  • Applies to

    • biotechnology
    • Nanotechnology, and (nanobiotechnology)
    • And quantum computing
  • We can’t solve all-particle Schrodinger equation for a protein molecule, but can try FDEs.



The book was published by Kluwer Academic, the most prestigious international publisher in the area.

  • The book was published by Kluwer Academic, the most prestigious international publisher in the area.



It evoked complimentary reactions and reviews in International journals.

  • It evoked complimentary reactions and reviews in International journals.



Raju writes with ease and deft wit….The… concept…[of FDE]…is exploited with subtlety and elegance by Raju. ... an important book..."

  • Raju writes with ease and deft wit….The… concept…[of FDE]…is exploited with subtlety and elegance by Raju. ... an important book..."

  • J. F. Woodward (Foundations of Physics )



The book by Raju is an important contribution to our understanding of this difficult concept [time].... The book is authoritative and written with impeccable clarity…this is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to readers of this journal."

  • The book by Raju is an important contribution to our understanding of this difficult concept [time].... The book is authoritative and written with impeccable clarity…this is an excellent book and I highly recommend it to readers of this journal."

  • D. J. Klir (Editor, International Journal of General Systems)



“…truly brilliant. ...The conclusions may warrant close scrutiny, since the custom since Socrates has been for brilliant philosophical critics to tack weak positive conclusions to their analyses."

  • “…truly brilliant. ...The conclusions may warrant close scrutiny, since the custom since Socrates has been for brilliant philosophical critics to tack weak positive conclusions to their analyses."



“Altogether a delightful book” –A. N. Mitra

  • “Altogether a delightful book” –A. N. Mitra

  • “fantastic...You are now rising to the level of Bohr and Pauli and others." –A. W. Joshi, Editor, Physics Education



(The book incidentally criticised Popper.)

  • (The book incidentally criticised Popper.)

  • “I found your critical remarks…very good”—Karl Popper.



The book also aroused fierce criticism.

  • The book also aroused fierce criticism.

  • In 1999, an entire seminar at Groningen was hijacked into a

    • debate over my claim of a “paradigm shift” in physics through FDEs.
  • H. D. Zeh (Professor of physics, Heidelberg) maintained that I was wrong, and that

    • no paradigm shift was necessary.
  • Most people at seminar sided with Zeh.



Eventually Zeh’s confusion was resolved

  • Eventually Zeh’s confusion was resolved

  • My 2004 article in Foundations of Physics (which Zeh edits) clarified why.

    • FDEs are needed
    • and lead to a paradigm shift.
    • As further underlined by the first solution I obtained of FDEs in a serious physical context (hydrogen atom).


So it seemed that common scientists took 10 years to understand, but light had finally dawned.

  • So it seemed that common scientists took 10 years to understand, but light had finally dawned.

  • I also published an account for the layperson in The Eleven Pictures of Time (Sage 2003)

  • Both books were in the news for reasons that I will go into later.



After all this, a year later…

  • After all this, a year later…



Sir Michael Atiyah gave the Einstein lecture.

  • Sir Michael Atiyah gave the Einstein lecture.

  • On 21 Oct 2005, on the centenary of Einstein’s 1905 relativity paper.

  • (Atiyah has

    • two “Nobel” prizes: the Fields medal and the Abel prize, and
    • is a former President of the Royal Society.)


During this talk Atiyah repeated my 3 claims that:

  • During this talk Atiyah repeated my 3 claims that:

  • 1. Using FDE leads to

  • 2. a new paradigm for physics, and

  • 3. could explain quantum mechanics.



He added an original fourth claim:

  • He added an original fourth claim:

  • “Don’t forget that I suggested it”.

  • (That was his sole original contribution!)



Atiyah repeated this claim 3 days later at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics.

  • Atiyah repeated this claim 3 days later at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics.

  • The KITP lecture was videocast, like the Einstein lecture.

  • My son doing PhD in string theory at Harvard watched this lecture, and informed me.



I did not scream “plagiarism”.

  • I did not scream “plagiarism”.

  • As I was travelling (in Australia and Singapore)

  • I asked my son to send details of my work to Atiyah.

  • He did that on 26 Oct 2005.

  • Atiyah responded on 28 October.



I had reason for deep suspicion. (Will elaborate later.)

  • I had reason for deep suspicion. (Will elaborate later.)

  • But I wrote a polite letter to Atiyah.

  • Instead of stating my suspicion I relied (implicitly) on professional ethics.



The American Mathematical Society’s (AMS) ethics states:

  • The American Mathematical Society’s (AMS) ethics states:

  • “A claim of independence may not be based on ignorance [of past work]”



Why are claims of “independent rediscovery” regarded as unethical?

  • Why are claims of “independent rediscovery” regarded as unethical?

  • Because it is so easy to feign ignorance.

  • And so hard to prove that a person consulted a book in the library.



Given these professional ethics.

  • Given these professional ethics.

  • Atiyah should have understood that his claim was unethical.

  • So he should have apologised.



And Atiyah apologised!

  • And Atiyah apologised!

  • BUT

  • Only for the delay in responding!



The matter could have stopped there.

  • The matter could have stopped there.

  • But it did not …



Atiyah’s claim to my ideas was repeated by (G. W. Johnson and M. Walker).

  • Atiyah’s claim to my ideas was repeated by (G. W. Johnson and M. Walker).

  • In a prominent article in the Notices of the AMS in June-July 2006.

  • They called it “Atiyah’s hypothesis”.



Atiyah saw the article before publication (as Walker admitted).

  • Atiyah saw the article before publication (as Walker admitted).

  • At this time Atiyah certainly knew of my work.

  • But my work again went unacknowledged.



After a prolonged protest

  • After a prolonged protest

  • An inconspicuous letter by Walker acknowledged the fact of my earlier work.

  • Appeared in Notices of the AMS April 2007.



Only the mere FACT of my prior work was acknowledged.

  • Only the mere FACT of my prior work was acknowledged.

  • Though ethics was clearly violated.

  • No apology or other remedy was offered.



This set a wrong precedent. In effect, it

  • This set a wrong precedent. In effect, it

    • Accepted a claim of “independent rediscovery”
    • Based on supposed ignorance of past work
  • Contrary to stated AMS ethics.



The process would encourage plagiarists.

  • The process would encourage plagiarists.

  • Why acknowledge past work beforehand?

  • If the sole penalty for non-acknowledgment is

  • Post-facto acknowledgment.



Claiming a “second oversight” through a third party is another systematic way to bypass ethics.

  • Claiming a “second oversight” through a third party is another systematic way to bypass ethics.

  • By teams of plagiarists acting together.



These grave implications for AMS ethics need to be discussed.

  • These grave implications for AMS ethics need to be discussed.

  • So I wrote a letter: “Is this ethical?”

  • To the Notices of the AMS.

  • Pointing out the second “oversight” and its ethical implications.



On AMS ethics, onus of proof not on me.

  • On AMS ethics, onus of proof not on me.

  • Onus on Atiyah to be knowledgeable (about past work).

  • However, I gave further proof of copying.



On my epistemic test those who copy, tend to make conceptual mistakes.

  • On my epistemic test those who copy, tend to make conceptual mistakes.

  • (Since they lack full understanding.)

  • Atiyah had made a conceptual mistake.



Atiyah proposed a hypothesis, where no hypothesis was necessary.

  • Atiyah proposed a hypothesis, where no hypothesis was necessary.

  • (My point: existing physics compels FDE.)



  • Even a non-expert can understand this mistake:

  • Atiyah’s audience at KITP included David Gross (Nobel Prize in physics 2004).

  • The video footage shows Gross vigorously pointing out Atiyah’s mistake,

  • which Atiyah did not then understand.



(Atiyah now disowns the phrase “Atiyah’s hypothesis” though

  • (Atiyah now disowns the phrase “Atiyah’s hypothesis” though

    • he did not object to the catchy phrase when it helped him get huge publicity through the Johnson-Walker article.
    • And the point is what he did
    • not who coined the phrase. )


The Notices of the AMS refused to publish my letter.

  • The Notices of the AMS refused to publish my letter.

  • AMS has thereby proved that it has two systems of ethics:

    • One to be stated
    • And the other to be acted upon.
  • If I was wrong, AMS should have published my letter and refuted my claim publicly.



A number of academics protested.

  • A number of academics protested.

  • As an affected party, the AMS should have given me at least one chance to state my side publicly.

  • Signatories to the petiton included top Indian academics

  • M. G. K. Menon, A. N. Mitra, Puspha Bhargava, Ashish Nandy, S. P. Shukla, Sumit Sarkar, Harish Trivedi, G. N. Devy etc.



The petition was just ignored by the AMS.

  • The petition was just ignored by the AMS.

  • (Another implicit admission of guilt!)



To keep matters simple, my letter to AMS did not mention the grounds for my initial deep suspicion.

  • To keep matters simple, my letter to AMS did not mention the grounds for my initial deep suspicion.

  • My theory of FDEs corrected Einstein’s mistake.

  • (Einstein and other after him had incorrectly converted FDEs to ODEs)



Einstein claimed to have discovered relativity “independently” claiming ignorance of Poincare’s work published earlier.

  • Einstein claimed to have discovered relativity “independently” claiming ignorance of Poincare’s work published earlier.

  • But he made a mistake in understanding the point about FDE notice by Poincare.

  • My books/papers mentioned this.



That is just to explain the real magnitude of the dispute

  • That is just to explain the real magnitude of the dispute

  • And why someone like Atiyah covets credit for the idea.

  • But also something strange here…



Atiyah’s claim to my ideas came during his Einstein lecture, on the centenary of Einstein’s relativity paper of 1905.

  • Atiyah’s claim to my ideas came during his Einstein lecture, on the centenary of Einstein’s relativity paper of 1905.

  • But Atiyah did not mention either Einstein’s mistake or Poincare (or me) in this connection.

  • Fantastic “coincidence”: The hundred year-old mistake was “accidentally” and “coincidentally” corrected during Atiyah’s Einstein lecture?



  • There is a simpler and more natural explanation.



My stand on Einstein well known to experts and even laypersons (reported by the press).

  • My stand on Einstein well known to experts and even laypersons (reported by the press).

  • natural that Atiyah would have consulted my book while preparing for his Einstein lecture.

  • (Atiyah certainly knows about the Einstein-Poincare dispute and mentioned it in an interview he gave to the local press that day.)



First “oversight” involves a fantastic coincidence.

  • First “oversight” involves a fantastic coincidence.

  • Second “oversight” is totally unacceptable.

  • Atiyah’s mistake proves copying.

  • AMS is suppressing the matter, contrary to its stated ethics.



What does this case mean for us?

  • What does this case mean for us?



My ideas go well beyond Poincare’s.

  • My ideas go well beyond Poincare’s.

  • The ideas have been around for a long time.

  • They have been published and acclaimed in international forums.



But our “experts” did not allocate a single paisa for further research on this idea.

  • But our “experts” did not allocate a single paisa for further research on this idea.

  • (Someone working for the Nobel prize committee understood the value of the ideas long ago, and wrote to the UGC to create a special position for me, but even then nothing happened.)



Our “eminent experts” persistently made wrong decisions, because they value

  • Our “eminent experts” persistently made wrong decisions, because they value

    • Neither Ethics
    • Nor scientific content
  • Power is all they value.



The penalty for wrong decisions is borne by others.

  • The penalty for wrong decisions is borne by others.

  • Then there are always excuses.

  • (For persistently wrong decisions

    • There are persistent excuses!)


Under these conditions government expenditure on research is wasted.

  • Under these conditions government expenditure on research is wasted.

  • The only outcome from theoretical research is

    • (a) credit, and
    • (b) lead time.


The yardstick used to judge new ideas is popular social approval in the West.

  • The yardstick used to judge new ideas is popular social approval in the West.

  • By that time it is too late, for the idea is not new. The lead time is dissipated

  • If the yardstick enforces mimesis, why spend on original research?



  • There is also no structure to ensure that credit for research remains in the country.

  • Only official agency is the INSA ethics committee.



I wrote to Mashelkar, President of INSA, so that INSA ethics committee could take up the Atiyah matter.

  • I wrote to Mashelkar, President of INSA, so that INSA ethics committee could take up the Atiyah matter.

  • Mashelkar did not respond.

  • The reason became clear a month later: Mashelkar was himself involved in a case of plagiarism!

  • Taking up a high-profile case on ethics would have hurt him personally.



Because of lack of ethics, government spending on research can be counter-productive.

  • Because of lack of ethics, government spending on research can be counter-productive.

  • Unethical people try to grab the money.

  • They are a liability to those who do research without grants.



Society for Scientific Values started by good people with good intentions.

  • Society for Scientific Values started by good people with good intentions.

  • But now headed by K. L. Chopra (also in the INSA ethics committee, which kept quiet in the Mashelkar case).



  • The 64th EC of the SSV noted that “at least 3 experts have found that the complaint of Dr. C.K Raju against Atiyah is valid.”

  • Subsequently, the SSV suddenly closed the case stating that although a prima facie case is made out.

  • Nothing further is required!



A proper ethics monitoring system is needed

  • A proper ethics monitoring system is needed

  • If ethics is not monitored, State funding for research is counter-productive.

  • Ethics monitoring should be kept rigorously outside the control of existing science managers.

  • Else they will take it over and “fix” it.







In response to my question pointing out a contradiction in his talk,

  • In response to my question pointing out a contradiction in his talk,

  • Raja Ramanna replied.

  • “Every matrix has a diagonal, even a rectangular matrix has a diagonal”

  • To prove this he drew a rectangle and its diagonal on the board!



Here is a 4 x 3 matrix. What is its diagonal?

  • Here is a 4 x 3 matrix. What is its diagonal?

  • Any child can see that it has no diagonal.

  • But Ramanna said it has a diagonal, and he was an “eminent scientist” (and Minister S&T).



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