Cotton balls grow on a plant | Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg
Cotton balls grow on a plant | Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg
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Dr Pushpendra Gupta, expert on plant genetics, had been sent the paper for review before its publication in Current Science, and said he had rejected it.

Bengaluru: On 25 December, the South Asia Biotechnology Centre put out a Facebook post, which talked about Current Science publishing yet another “biased” article which diminished the established processes for hybridisation of Bt Cotton.

The post attracted several disapproving comments from scientists, and added fuel to the controversy over the Kesavan-Swaminathan anti-GMO paper.

Pushpendra Gupta, head of the department of genetics and plant breeding at Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, who was one of the reviewers Current Science had sent the paper to before publication, responded to the post, stating that his recommendation for its rejection was not heeded.

The original paper has since been taken down, and M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India’s green revolution, has reaffirmed his support for GM crops. He has even said he should not have been named co-author on the piece.

Kesavan and Swaminathan’s paper stirred up instant unrest in the scientific community, with many researchers and scientists panning it for being filled with pseudoscience.
Several point-by-point rebuttals were published by fellow scientists as well. While the paper is no longer available at the original URL, it is unclear if it has been retracted.


Also read: MS Swaminathan and his co-authors are not helping Indian farmers at a moment of crisis


Gupta’s objections

In his comments on the Facebook post, Gupta posted the objections he had raised to Current Science, and also questioned how the flawed paper was published so quickly.

Gupta said he received the paper for review on the 17 October, and responded the same day: “I have read the article by Kesavan and Swaminathan. It is a one-sided personal opinion (extremely biased) of an anti-GMO activist, and not a ‘review article’. The contents do not match even distantly with the following title: ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’.

“So much has been written on this subject and excellent reviews are available, which have not been read or cited by the authors. I wonder how M.S. Swaminathan allowed his name to be dragged in this manuscript. Such a manuscript should be rejected without review; I will not like to review it.”


Also read: Throttled by activists at home, Indian GM seed firms find great demand overseas


Haste in publication

Gupta said he guessed that the paper was received by Current Science in early October and published in less than two months. The publishing process involves peer review, proof reading, plagiarism check, art/graphics preparation, reformatting and rewriting, and more.

According to SciRev ratings provided by authors of papers published in Current Science, the journal typically takes two months for the first round of reviews and four more for publication. In one case, the whole process took 22 weeks (about five months), while in another, the journal did not respond at all, despite the author withdrawing the paper after 430 days.

Typically, scientific journals take anywhere from three months to two years to publish a paper after it has been submitted.

“I consider it extraordinarily fast publication of an article in Current Science, which normally takes at least six months, and sometimes takes even more than a year for publication of a submitted manuscript,” said Gupta.

He added that despite his strong recommendation against the paper, Current Science went on to publish it on 25 November, on priority, despite more than 50 accepted review articles that were listed as forthcoming. He wrote that in an email correspondence, he was informed that he was the only person against publication while two other reviewers were for it.

Current Science is yet to respond to queries from ThePrint about when the article was submitted, when the reviews were completed, and when the article was accepted. This report will be updated when they respond.

Gupta further stated that he had submitted a paper titled An assessment of relative risks to human/ecological health: Biotech crops versus other human activities for publication in Current Science on 10 August 2016, but it was rejected without a review just two weeks later, with no reason stated. Gupta said even when he asked, Current Science failed to provide a response. Another paper of his, which he submitted in January this year, was accepted but has not yet been published.

Questions for editors

Gupta concluded by asking two questions of the handling editor at Current Science, Dr K.N. Ganeshaiah, and the editor-in-chief, Dr S.K. Satheesh:

“(i) Why they did not examine the flawed manuscript to satisfy themselves, whether or not my comments were justified, and why did they blindly accept the recommendation of the other two reviewers?

“(ii) How could the manuscript be so quickly reviewed by two other reviews in such a short period, and why the said manuscript was published ahead of many other review articles that were already accepted and were listed as forthcoming articles?”

ThePrint has reached Current Science with the same questions. This report will be updated when they respond.

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