Getting it Right: Digital Data-Images and Journal Author instructions

Thoughts on Journal of Molecular Medicine’s 2008 statement on scientific misconduct and data-images

We recently re-read editor Detlev Ganten and Gregg L. Semenza’s  thoughtful statement on research integrity and their journal’s new policies, and it made us think more about improving author instructions. The JMol editors  state clearly that their primary concern is that pressure to publish is leading to more research misconduct, and they seek to promote integrity in research and limit research misconduct in the articles they publish.  It is heartening that they specifically write about manipulation of digital data-images, but their focus seems to be on deliberately inappropriate image manipulation, it is not clear from their statement that they recognize the extent to which digital-data images are specially liable to unintentionally inappropriate digital image manipulations. The editors seek to “further increase the readers’ confidence in the results”, and have hit the mark in requiring “authors to provide raw data of blots or gels as electronic supplementary material.”  This is an excellent beginning and far more than most journals ask, but we still think more needs to be done. We think journals should make at least three specific changes to their instructions to authors, in order to fully address the complexities of dealing with data-images. 1)  Insist that authors retain the original unmanipulated data-image for all data-images and make them available upon request. 2)  Require that authors retain the audit trail of image manipulations for images being submitted. 3)   Require that any data-image submitted for publication include appropriate description of any manipulations. Whereas screening of images can be an important tool for journals, the cost is usually more than journal budgets can bear.  Our suggestions require minimal oversight during routine operations. Further these three requirements will help protect the journal and the scientific record by applying to digital data-images the same kinds of requirements long common for other types of data. D. Ganten,  G. L. Semenza,  C. Nolte, Fostering trust, J Mol Med’s scientific integrity policy, Journal of Molecular Medicine, Volume 87, Number 1, 1-2, (DOI: 10.1007/s00109-0 08-0428-x)  Fostering Trust:   J Mol Med’s scientific integrity policy

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