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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
ferent 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 in which the manipulation affects the interpretation of the data will result in revocation of acceptance, and will be reported to the corresponding author’s home institution or funding agency.
Having developed this policy, the editors at the Journal of Cell Biology began to screen all of the images in accepted articles for evidence of inappropriate manipulation. For example, simple brightness and contrast adjustments could reveal inconsistencies in the background of the image that are clues to manipulation. In this way, the editors could determine whether the images presented in a manuscript were an accurate representation of what was actually observed and whether the quality or context in which the images were obtained was apparent.
Over the course of the next 5 years, the editors screened the images in 1,869 accepted papers.3 Over a quarter of the manuscripts contained one or more images that had been inappropriately manipulated. In the vast majority of those cases, the manipulation violated the journal’s guidelines but did not affect the interpretation of the data, and the articles were published after the authors revised the images in accordance with the guidelines.
In 18 of the papers—about 1 percent of the total for which the editors sought and obtained the original data—the editors determined that the image manipulations affected the interpretation of the data. The acceptance of those papers was revoked, and they were not published. In only one case did the authors state that the original data could not be found and withdrew the paper.
According to a federal definition of research misconduct developed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, misconduct consists of fabrication, fal-
These figures are from Mike Rossner, The Rockefeller University Press, presentation to the committee, April 16, 2007. For background, see Mike Rossner and Kenneth M. Yamada. 2004. “What’s in a picture: The temptation of image manipulation.” Journal of Cell Biology 166(1):11–15.