Do the ends justify the means?

In a 2011 case submitted to the UK’s Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the editors of a journal were convinced that false bands had been included in an assay figure.  The author had not described any image manipulations when submitting the article.  When the editors contacted the author, he admitted that “some of the figures had been made by copy/paste but he maintained that the conclusions of the article are correct.”  The editors then investigated other papers they had published by the same author and found what appeared to be inappropriate manipulation.  When contacted again, the author had the same response, as did his co-author. The editors found themselves dealing with authors who believed that cutting and pasting assay figures—gel blots—was not wrong if the authors considered that the results accurate. If nothing else, this COPE case points to the need for  better and more thorough education about producing and manipulating data-images.  Senior researchers may need this education as much as graduate students do.  All parts of the research community need to be involved—research institutions, universities, academic and professional societies, granting agencies, and national organizations devoted to responsible conduct of research.

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