Dr. Wang doesn’t think he did anything wrong

Dr. Zhigou Wang of the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) still does not feel he has done anything wrong.   In six now-retracted articles published in 2007 and 2008 in leading peer reviewed journals, Wang used western blot bands from other, previous studies as evidence in the articles about subsequent studies.  This is a clear violation of  research ethics, not to mention copyright violations if the previous articles were published.    MHI funded the research and set up an expert committee that concluded Wang had violated the ethical polices of their institution and the journals that published the articles.  Dr. Wang was forced to resign in September 2011.  In an interview with Retraction Watch staff, Wang commented, “We noticed some mistakes in the Western blot band images shown in these papers. These mistakes do not invalidate our results and conclusions, and we and others have been able to reproduce the data reported in these papers.”    This comment reveals two misunderstandings.  First, one ethical researcher claims that images from one study are in fact from a different, later study.  But second and more important, his reaction reflects a widespread and outdated understanding of images in reporting research results:  the idea that a image is a concept, merely an illustration that is transferable, rather than understanding that the image is the data. No researcher would make this mistake with numerical or statistical data—claiming that numerical data from Study A is actually data from Study B (and C and D) is false and therefore unethical. It is vital that data-images be recognized as data,  not illustrations.   In a recent presentation at the 2011 annual Council of Science Editors conference,  we reported a study of over 400 bio-medical journals that revealed approximately 50% of the journals’ author instructions gave only instructions for handling illustrations, with no special instructions or standards for data-images.  We believe it is time for data-images to be recognized as a special form of data,  and for journal author instructions to reflect the needs of digital data-images in science.


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