January 24, 2006
Soucre: The New York Times
Written by Nicholas Wade
Among the many temptations of the digital age, photo-manipulation has proved particularly troublesome for science, and scientific journals are beginning to respond.
TRACKING FRAUD At The Journal of Cell Biology, Michael Rossner and Laura Smith, top, and Ira Mellman, above, use Photoshop to catch manipulated photos submitted for publication.
Some journal editors are considering adopting a test, in use at The Journal of Cell Biology, that could have caught the concocted images of the human embryonic stem cells made by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk.
At The Journal of Cell Biology, the test has revealed extensive manipulation of photos. Since 2002, when the test was put in place, 25 percent of all accepted manuscripts have had one or more illustrations that were manipulated in ways that violate the journal’s guidelines, said Michael Rossner of Rockefeller University, the executive editor. The editor of the journal, Ira Mellman of Yale, said that most cases were resolved when the authors provided originals. “In 1 percent of the cases we find authors have engaged in fraud,” he said.
The two editors recognized the likelihood that images were being improperly manipulated when the journal required all illustrations to be submitted in digital form. While reformatting illustrations submitted in the wrong format, Dr. Rossner realized that some authors had yielded to the temptation of Photoshop’s image-changing tools to misrepresent the original data.
In some instances, he found, authors would remove bands from a gel, a test for showing what proteins are present in an experiment. Sometimes a row of bands would be duplicated and presented as the controls for a second experiment. Sometimes the background would be cleaned up, with Photoshop’s rubber stamp or clone stamp tool, to make it prettier.
Some authors would change the contrast in an image to eliminate traces of a diagnostic stain that showed up in places where there shouldn’t be one. Others would take images of cells from different experiments and assemble them as if all were growing on the same plate.
To prohibit such manipulations, Dr. Rossner and Dr. Mellman published guidelines saying, in effect, that nothing should be done to any part of an illustration that did not affect all other parts equally. In other words, it is all right to adjust the brightness or color balance of the whole photo, but not to obscure, move or introduce an element.
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JCB’s Instructions to authors (from their web site)
Image acquisition and manipulation. The following information must be provided about the acquisition and processing of images:
1. Make and model of microscope
2. Type, magnification, and numerical aperture of the objective lenses
4. Imaging medium
6. Camera make and model
7. Acquisition software
8. Any subsequent software used for image processing, with details about types of operations involved (e.g., type of deconvolution, 3D reconstructions, surface or volume rendering, gamma adjustments, etc.).
No specific feature within an image may be enhanced, obscured, moved, removed, or introduced. The grouping of images from different parts of the same gel, or from different gels, fields, or exposures must be made explicit by the arrangement of the figure (i.e., using dividing lines) and in the text of the figure legend. If dividing lines are not included, they will be added by our production department, and this may result in production delays. Adjustments of brightness, contrast, or color balance are acceptable if they are applied to the whole image and as long as they do not obscure, eliminate, or misrepresent any information present in the original, including backgrounds. Without any background information, it is not possible to see exactly how much of the original gel is actually shown. Non-linear adjustments (e.g., changes to gamma settings) must be disclosed in the figure legend. All digital images in manuscripts accepted for publication will be scrutinized by our production department for any indication of improper manipulation. Questions raised by the production department will be referred to the Editors, who will request the original data from the authors for comparison to the prepared figures. If the original data cannot be produced, the acceptance of the manuscript may be revoked. Cases of deliberate misrepresentation of data will result in revocation of acceptance, and will be reported to the corresponding author’s home institution or funding agency.