In 2003 the Microscopy Society of America (MSA) was almost alone among professional societies in developing policies about digital data-images. The MSA recognized the need to provide basic ethical guidelines for digital data-image:
The MSA position on digital image processing has been approved as follows:
“Ethical digital imaging requires that the original uncompressed image file be stored on archival media (e.g., CD-R) without any image manipulation or processing operation. All parameters of the production and acquisition of this file, as well as any subsequent processing steps, must be documented and reported to ensure reproducibility.
Generally, acceptable (non-reportable) imaging operations include gamma correction, histogram stretching, and brightness and contrast adjustments. All other operations (such as Unsharp-Masking, Gaussian Blur, etc.) must be directly identified by the author as part of the experimental methodology. However, for diffraction data or any other image data that is used for subsequent quantification, all imaging operations must be reported.”
Now, almost 10 years later, retractions and questions about data-images in submitted and accepted publications are frequent enough to ask whether the MSA should take the lead again by re-examining these policies and expanding them to include more specific guidelines.
We hope they will and that they would emphasis the need to retain metadata with the unmanipulated original. It would also be a service to the community if they would clarify issues of falsification and plagiarism of data-images.