“What were you thinking? Do not manipulate those data”

The title of this post is stolen, with adoring attribution, from a piece in the November 16, 2010 issue of Autophagy, because we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

In the piece, the journal’s editor, Dan Klionsky, focuses on images. It reads, in part:

As you prepare your figures, please adhere to the following guidelines to accurately present your data:

  1. No specific feature within an image may be enhanced, obscured, moved, removed, or introduced.
  2. The grouping of images from different parts of the same gel, or from different 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.
  3. 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 the background. Nonlinear adjustments must be disclosed in the figure legend.

Manipulated images are a frequent cause of retractions, so Klionsky’s focus is understandable. He cites the Journal of Cell Biology’s rules on presenting images. Those rules were familiar to one of us, because in a past life Ivan worked with JCB managing editor Mike Rossner on an opinion in The Scientist about how they could have detected some of Woo-Suk Hwang’s human cloning fraud. That work was later retracted, of course.

Klionsky seems to run a tight ship. In the same issue, a group of authors note in an erratum (we added links):

We would like to add a note of concern to our manuscript published last year in Autophagy (Huang Q, Shen H-M. To die or to live: The dual role of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 in autophagy and necrosis under oxidative stress and DNA damage. Autophagy 2009; 5:273-6). Our concern is due to the retraction of the related article, to which our article was an addendum:: : Huang Q, Wu YT, Tan HL, Ong CN, Shen HM. A novel function of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 in modulation of autophagy and necrosis under oxidative stress. Cell Death Differ 2009; 16:264-77: : The decision for the retraction is based on the discovery of some technical errors in the data, although we are still confident about the overall validity of the conclusion of the study.

In other words, in case you worried about the retraction of our other paper, we stand by this one.

One thought on ““What were you thinking? Do not manipulate those data””

  1. Won’t be long before we start seeing things like this:

    “Another possible drawback to our study is our use of software (Photostore, Silicon Valley, CA) to enhance the clarity of our data. But given that only a few decades after the first photograph was done in 1814, photographs were already being manipulated (Farid, Dartmouth Univ), we postulated that the benefits of manipulating the photographs in our paper would outweigh the costs.”

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