In a spillover of the ongoing border dispute between India and China, Indian scientists were forced to withdraw a paper in an international peer-reviewed journal published from China on the grounds that it could not mention Arunachal Pradesh.
Indian scientists Mukesh Thakur, Lalit Kumar Sharma, and Avijit Ghosh were forced to withdraw a paper on the White-Cheeked Macaque (Macaca leucogenys) on the grounds that it could not mention Arunachal Pradesh as the sampling site. The Chinese government contested the inclusion of Arunachal Pradesh in the study, claiming it did not align with their defined map.
The paper ‘Two Y chromosome lineages in White-Cheeked Macaque (Macaca leucogenys)’ was accepted on February 14, 2023, and published online on April 5, 2023, in the journal Wildlife Letters.
The journal Wildlife Letters is a recently launched international peer-reviewed journal and is published from Northeast Forestry University in China.
“This is nothing but scientific terrorism. Since April 2023, I have exchanged several emails with the journal authorities relating to the paper. I have taken strong stand that I cannot replace Arunachal Pradesh and was forced to withdraw the paper in the last week of October,” Mukesh Thakur, scientist and Officer-in-Charge, Mammal Sectional, Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) told The Hindu.
Dr. Thakur, the lead author of the paper, has more than 100 papers in his name and has been a recipient of several distinguished awards, including the DST Young Scientist (2013), the DST INSPIRE Faculty (2017), the INSA Medal for Young Scientist (2018), and the TULIP LAb Ex Fellow-France (2022). He has also served at the Chinese Academy of Sciences as a Visiting Scientist (2015-16).
“For Wildlife Letters, as a journal published in China, we are obligated to follow Chinese maps and use of place names. Our failure not to do so could result in removal of Chinese funding for the journal and create problems for journal staff that are based in China,” Marcel Holyoak, Co-Editor-in-Chief for Wildlife Letters wrote to Dr. Thakur in an email dated April 2023. The Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal also suggested that the only option in the current case is that the problems be corrected or “we are forced to withdraw the manuscript”.
When the scientists accused the journal of questioning the geopolitical boundaries of India, Professor Holyoak wrote back saying that neither he nor the journal takes any position with respect to geopolitical boundaries, but “we are obliged to follow what is expected of the scientists and journal within China”. In October 2023, Dr. Thakur wrote to the journal saying that their decision to withdraw the journal based on “national regulations concerning the name of specific regions, mentioned in the article, in my view” was “unwarranted”. He also said that he was willing to pursue legal action through an international court to ensure resolution of the matter.
Dr. Thakur said that he was surprised that there were Indian scientists on the board of the journal who did not support him on the issue. Dr. Thakur, who specialises in the use of DNA technologies, also added that the journal holds the production house in India, and a few Indians employed with the journal’s production house also insisted on the omission of Arunachal Pradesh’s mention from the paper.
“We are happy that our scientist has remained firm on the issue of the territorial integrity of the country. There could be several such incidents that can go unnoticed and would urge the Government of India to come up with an advisory on issues where the territorial integrity of the country is concerned,” ZSI director Dhriti Banerjee said.
Discovered by Chinese scientists from South Tibet White-Cheeked Macaque (Macaca leucogenys) was later reported by Dr. Mukesh and his team from Dibang Valley and West Siang region of Arunachal Pradesh on the basis of camera trapping and DNA analysis. In the paper, which they were forced to withdraw, the scientists explore two paternal lineage of the White-Cheeked Macaque supporting a hybrid origin of the species with the sinica group of macaques.