All is not as it seems

Digital images are frequently used to provide supporting evidence within papers and reports, yet are not routinely submitted to any scientific process of authentication. In a world in which the tools to digitally manipulate an image are freely available, it’s no longer acceptable to simply take these images at face value.

The past 12 months has seen the scientific community rocked by a series of scandals relating to the use of manipulated images within published scientific research.

Researchers’ ambition to gain scientific exposure, to achieve career advancement or to secure funding, can drive them to embellish their results in order to attain their goals in the increasingly competitive world of scientific discovery. Equally, the pressure to publish can see them stumbled across doctored images and incorporate them by mistake. In these cases, not only is the individual’s reputation at risk, but also their colleagues’ who are oblivious to the altered nature of the images. The impact of these images is extensive and far-reaching: they threaten to endanger the name of the organization for which the researcher is working, as well as calling into question the integrity of the scientific community at large. This is a critical issue in the current technological day and age, yet very little is being done to address it. Bearing in mind the damage that doctored images can do, scientific publishers and research institutes ought to be more rigorous when setting out the requirements for images that are used in papers.

If some basic screening were applied more extensively to scientific publications, with minimal effort we would be in a much better position to guarantee, or dispute, the authenticity of images within scientific papers for the benefit of science and its wider community.

Working to detect image manipulation in the world of science is a long-term battle, just as it is in photojournalism, forensics, and in any other field where image manipulation is a growing threat to the veracity of images.

Read the full article published in Laboratory News.