, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 639-667

Avoiding Twisted Pixels: Ethical Guidelines for the Appropriate Use and Manipulation of Scientific Digital Images

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Abstract

Digital imaging has provided scientists with new opportunities to acquire and manipulate data using techniques that were difficult or impossible to employ in the past. Because digital images are easier to manipulate than film images, new problems have emerged. One growing concern in the scientific community is that digital images are not being handled with sufficient care. The problem is twofold: (1) the very small, yet troubling, number of intentional falsifications that have been identified, and (2) the more common unintentional, inappropriate manipulation of images for publication. Journals and professional societies have begun to address the issue with specific digital imaging guidelines. Unfortunately, the guidelines provided often do not come with instructions to explain their importance. Thus they deal with what should or should not be done, but not the associated ‘why’ that is required for understanding the rules. This article proposes 12 guidelines for scientific digital image manipulation and discusses the technical reasons behind these guidelines. These guidelines can be incorporated into lab meetings and graduate student training in order to provoke discussion and begin to bring an end to the culture of “data beautification”.

Originally presented at the University of Alabama at Birmingham/Office of Research Integrity conference entitled “Statistics, Images, and Misconduct”, held September 2006.