The Reality of Image manipulation
In this study, we evaluated the falsification of electrophoresis images published in international academic journals since 2000. As a result, we concluded that 6.6% of the papers published in Nature possessed a high likelihood of image manipulation occurrence, and that 23.8% should be further examined for image manipulation. These results show that the amount of paper fabrications published in the media and elsewhere are only the tip of the iceberg, and that there are numerous researchers out there that have yet to be discovered despite fabricating results similarly. Although there would be some cases among papers evaluated at point 1 where image contrast had been already high for raw data and backgrounds had been already whited out, we suspect that in many cases the backgrounds had been intentionally erased using image software, and evaluated those cases at 1. Therefore, we do not believe that all papers with a rating of 1 were the result of malicious image manipulation. Additionally, there were several papers that pasted a separate image just for control together with data images to appear as one photo. Such cases received a rating of 1. Strictly speaking, if the control is clearly expressed in a separate frame, there was no problem. However, in quantitative experiments, since we consider control as a standard for quantitative comparison, it is impossible to discuss quantitative properties when images from other experiments are included. Such cases were rated at 2.
A Request for Authors of Papers Wherein Our Investigation Indicates Image Manipulation
An evaluation of 2 was given to papers where it was suggested that the likelihood of image manipulation was high. If the authors of these papers were to present their raw data, correct data, or clear data, the scientific value of their papers would not be called into question. Similarly, this survey does not mean to disparage the credibility of those papers rated at 1. However, it may be difficult to produce the raw data for some studies where 10 years or more have passed since the original experiments. In those cases, it would be preferred if the experiments were performed again, and similar photographs were presented. In cases where the experiments cannot be performed again, the authors should explicitly show in another paper what results could be reproduced and to what extent therein. If results cannot be reproduced or fabrication is admitted, the only option for the paper is to be withdrawn. In our opinion, the important aspect here in regard to science is not to condemn fabrication or the researchers, but to clarify the data can be trusted and the data that cannot. As described above, we hope the authors of these papers wherein there is a likelihood of image manipulation clarify whether our claims of image manipulation are groundless or whether fraud really occurred, via scientific discussion based on the data. What is believed to be nonsense in paper examination back then might be revealed to be possible. True science may be hiding within phenomena overlooked in these papers.
Although situations varied for each author of the 20 cases in Nature evaluated at 2, from the analysis of all the cases in PNAS, the difference in rate of image manipulation indications when comparing Japanese named researchers to others suggests this issue may be a particular characteristic of Japanese researchers. Additionally, although we hypothesized the image manipulation rate might increase as the impact factor of the journal increased, there was no significant difference between Nature and PNAS at this time.
Considering the context in which Japanese first authors manipulate their images, there may have been some pressure. For example, he or she could have been a researcher studying abroad, to produce results in order to obtain a post in Japan. Or perhaps the author was focused on his or her own self-interest in obtaining honor and status. In addition, he or she may just have wanted to produce better looking images in order to pass the paper examination quickly. It can be associated with the severe Japanese research environment, in which the employment demand for researchers kept low against the increase in the number of Ph.Ds which is the results of national policy.
It is also possible that a corresponding author involved in the image manipulation as a group. Of the 20 cases with a rating of 2 from our examination, image manipulation was detected in 2 cases each from 2 laboratories. Both of those labs were in the United States. Further investigation is recommended including the potential of organizational fabrication.