Digital Images Are Data: And Should Be Treated as Such

  • Douglas W. CromeyEmail author
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 931)


The scientific community has become very concerned about inappropriate image manipulation. In journals that check figures after acceptance, 20–25% of the papers contained at least one figure that did not comply with the journal’s instructions to authors. The scientific press continues to report a small, but steady stream of cases of fraudulent image manipulation. Inappropriate image manipulation taints the scientific record, damages trust within science, and degrades science’s reputation with the general public. Scientists can learn from historians and photojournalists, who have provided a number of examples of attempts to alter or misrepresent the historical record. Scientists must remember that digital images are numerically sampled data that represent the state of a specific sample when examined with a specific instrument. These data should be carefully managed. Changes made to the original data need to be tracked like the protocols used for other experimental procedures. To avoid pitfalls, unexpected artifacts, and unintentional misrepresentation of the image data, a number of image processing guidelines are offered.

Key words

Digital image Ethics Manipulation Image processing Microscopy 



This work was supported in part by the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (NIEHS ES006694); the Division of Biotechnology, Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona; the Arizona Cancer Center (NCI CA23074); and the University of Arizona Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. The views, opinions, and conclusions of this chapter are not necessarily those of the SWEHSC, NIEHS, AZCC, NCI, or the University of Arizona.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, Arizona Research Labs - Division of Biotechnology, Arizona Cancer CenterUniversity of Arizona College of MedicineTusconUSA

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