Taking a closer look: Screening of images

Ensuring the integrity of images in literature is an important issue affecting authors and publishers across science.
Inside eLife

By Wei Mun Chan, Editorial Manager

To ensure rigour and reproducibility of what we publish at eLife, we have recently introduced image screening as a routine part of our editorial process. The integrity of images in literature is an important issue affecting both authors and publishers across science, since even the smallest modification of images can have an impact on our understanding and reproducibility of a piece of work (Rossner and Yamada 2004, Cromey 2010). It is therefore vital that scientific digital images are handled correctly. Since authors also often receive little support or training when preparing scientific digital images for their work, we hope that we can provide a valuable service to our authors as well as helping to educate and encourage them in the best practice and most responsible behaviours in science.

Earlier this year we ran a pilot screening 100 revised eLife submissions in an attempt to understand better the issues affecting images in work submitted to eLife. In our experience, the most typical issues encountered involved instances where the images had been duplicated, where there were issues with the processing of the images, and/or images were spliced. (An image splice is where two separate images have been joined at the edges to give the impression that they are one continuous image. Authors may be tempted to remove lanes from gels in the final image, however, all boundaries should be clearly delimited to avoid misrepresentation of the data.)

For eLife Research Articles we do not have a defined limit on the number of figures so it is not surprising that authors might make honest mistakes such as accidental duplication of images. When processing experimental images, for example adjusting the image for brightness or contrast, it is usually fine when adjustments are performed equally across the whole image and in the same manner to the control data, provided they don’t obscure or selectively enhance one region at the expense of others.

Given our ongoing increase in publication volume and general importance of the integrity of the images, we have recently started routinely screening the images for our submissions. We will be screening all suitable images including but not limited to the following types: gels/blots; micrographs; culture plates; fluorescence images; and other types of digital images that could be affected by inappropriate digital image processing practices. For more information about submitting a paper to eLife take a look at our author guide.

References

Rossner, M and Yamada, KM. (2004). What's in a picture? The temptation of image manipulation. Journal of Cell Biology 166:11.

Cromey, DW. (2010). Avoiding Twisted Pixels: Ethical Guidelines for the Appropriate Use and Manipulation of Scientific Digital Images. Sci Eng Ethics 16: 639-667.

We welcome any comments and questions. You can contact us at editorial [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

For the latest in published research plus papers available in PDF shortly after acceptance sign up for our weekly email alerts. You can also follow @eLife on Twitter.