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Image Manipulation as Research Misconduct

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A growing number of research misconduct cases handled by the Office of Research Integrity involve image manipulations. Manipulations may include simple image enhancements, misrepresenting an image as something different from what it is, and altering specific features of an image. Through a study of specific cases, the misconduct findings associated with image manipulation, detection methods and those likely to identify such manipulations, are discussed. This article explores sanctions imposed against guilty researchers and the factors that resulted in no misconduct finding although relevant images clearly were flawed. Although new detection tools are available for universities and journals to detect questionable images, this article explores why these tools have not been embraced.

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  1. See Krueger (2).

  2. It is unclear on what basis ORI “opens” a case.

  3. See James H. Abbs, 61 Fed. Reg. 15806 (Apr. 9, 1996) (altered tracings on muscle control by switching labels, changing force levels and scale), John Hiserodt, 59 Fed. Reg. 14623 (Mar. 29, 1994) (altered photographs of autoradiograms), Tetsuya Matsuguchi, 60 Fed. Reg. 58628 (Nov. 28, 1995) (darkened one band on two autoradiographs and manipulated three bands in the print of an immunoblot), and Samar Roy, 64 Fed. Reg. 4108 (Jan. 27, 1999) (used a different exposure of the same autoradiogram).

  4. See Michael Ganz, 68 Fed. Reg. 123–124 (Jan. 2, 2003) (topographically modified duplicates of photographs), Bernd Hoffman, 69 Fed. Reg. 8446 (Feb. 24, 2004) (removed a band of molecular weight from a lane and enhanced the movement of vesicles along microtubules in a film posted on the internet), Regina Horvat, 69 Fed. Reg. 35629 (Jun. 25, 2004) (intensified a band in a Western blot), David Jacoby, 66 Fed. Reg. 35982–35983 (Jul. 10, 2001) (used computer software to intensify a band and remove background spots in an image), Xiaowu Li, 70 Fed. Reg. 61443 (Oct. 24, 2005) (falsely reported mouse cancer cells as human cancer cells), Jason Lilly, 70 Fed. Reg. 32619–32620 (Jun. 3, 2005) (falsely colored two cells in an expanded portion of a figure and changed image data from a single assay to make it appear as multiple assays), Heather Muenchen, 67 Fed. Reg. 61889 (Oct. 2, 2002) (computer manipulations of Western blot analyses, including cutting and pasting entire lanes to produce the extra lanes in published film), Tirunelveli Ramalingam, 69 Fed. Reg. 43420–43421 (Jul. 20, 2004) (black mask superimposed over part of a figure and duplicated a panel and used it multiple times in one image), Clifford Robinson, 71 Fed. Reg. 67870–67871 (Nov. 24, 2006) (falsified fluorescence spectra and circular dichroism measurements in two panels of a figure), Kristin Roovers, 72 Fed. Reg. 38836–38837 (Jul. 16, 2007) (falsified data in nineteen panels of Western blot data and in nine panels of immunoblot data), Charles Rudick, 69 Fed. Reg. 58445 (Sept. 30, 2005) (falsified illustrations in Photoshop dealing with unpublished traces of electrophysiological recordings of postsynaptic currents), Robert Tracy, 67 Fed. Reg. 36007–36008 (May 22, 2002) (added discrete bands where there had been a uniform smear of radioactivity using Photoshop image of an unalterable ImageQuant printout), Rebecca Uzelmeier, 72 Fed. Reg. 16366–16367 (Apr. 4, 2007) (falsified and fabricated autoradiographic films and computer images scanned from those films), and Lingjie Zhao, 71 Fed. Reg. 38166–38167 (Jul. 5, 2006) (darkened a band on two lanes of autoradiographic film and falsified the western blot by darkening four lanes at the origin of the gel).

  5. See NSF 01–18 (respondent fabricated data points in a figure). In 02–41, NSF did not find misconduct, though the respondent admitted fabricating an image. The research was not NSF-supported at the time and his inclusion on the proposal purportedly was inadvertent.

  6. Rossner and Yamada (4).

  7. This seminal article is particularly useful for editors establishing relevant policies.

  8. Letter reporting findings of investigative panel from Fawwaz Ulaby to Alan Price, dated August 6, 2001, at pp. 6. Such information is available through a Freedom of Information Act request.

  9. See Abbs.

  10. See Ganz.

  11. See Hoffman, Ramalingam, and Tracy.

  12. See Jacoby.

  13. See Muenchen.

  14. Although journals may use manipulation detection software, based on experience, the software may not be unable to identify all manipulations.

  15. Young (5).

  16. Rampbell (3).

  17. Personal communication between author and Michael Rossner.

  18. See Young (5).

  19. Personal communication between author and Michael Rossner.

  20. See Abbs, Hoffman, Horvat, Matsuguchi, Ramaligam, Roy, and Zhao.

  21. See Lilly and Tracy.

  22. See Ganz, Hiserodt, Jacoby, Muenchen, Uzelmeier and Robinson. .

  23. See Jacoby.

  24. See Abbs and Rudick.

  25. See Lilly.

  26. See Matsuguchi.

  27. See Ganz.

  28. See Uzelmeier.

  29. See Tracy and Hoffman.

  30. See Ganz. The State Medical Board in Ohio issued a reprimand for professional misconduct to Ganz on October 10, 2007. See Health Grades physician profile available at

  31. See Rossner at p. 11.

  32. See transcript of PBS American Experience film Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film, available at The comments of William Turnage are especially relevant, as he claims that Adams “manipulated the work tremendously in the dark room”.

  33. Journal of Cell Science, Information for Authors: “Image Manipulation”.

  34. See Rossner at p. 15.


  1. Adams, A. A Documentary Film, available at Accessed 15 July 2008. (Transcript of film).

  2. Krueger, J. (2007). Detection and interpretation of manipulated images in science. Powerpoint presentation at CSE Annual Conference May 2007. Available at

  3. Rampell, C. (2008). Journals may soon use antiplagiarism software on their authors. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Available at Accessed June 2008.

  4. Rossner, M., & Yamada, K. (2004). What’s in a picture? The temptation of image manipulation. The Journal of Cell Biology, 166(1), 11–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Young, J. R. (2008). Journals find many images in research are faked. The Chronicle of Higher Education, A1, A10–11 (June 6, 2008).

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Correspondence to Debra Parrish.

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Parrish, D., Noonan, B. Image Manipulation as Research Misconduct. Sci Eng Ethics 15, 161–167 (2009).

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