Using Photoshop on experimental results

Greg Wilson pointed out an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about scientists using Photoshop to manipulate the graphs of their results. The article has this to say about The Journal of Cell Biology.

So far the journal’s editors have identified 250 papers with questionable figures. Out of those, 25 were rejected because the editors determined the alterations affected the data’s interpretation.

This immediately raises suspicions of fraud which is, of course. However, I’m more concerned about carelessness than fraud. As Goethe once said,

…misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent. 

Even if researchers had innocent motivations for manipulating their graphs, they’ve made it impossible for someone else to reproduce their results and have cast doubts on their integrity.

4 thoughts on “Using Photoshop on experimental results

  1. Holy cheating batman. I’m afraid I’m so old it would never occur to me to do that. Whatever my old FORTRAN program cranked out is how the imaging software presented it. We might rotate the molecular image to show a different view, but that’s about the extent of enhancement that ever occurred to us. And trust me, there were times when my images could have used some “clarity”. In fact, there were a lot of times my publications could have used a lot more clarity, based on the rejection notices and request for clarification notifications. :-)

  2. I’ve always thought that for economic graphs one only needs two — one with a jagged line going from upper left to lower right, and one with a jagged line going from lower left to upper right. It seems that every single time it is one of those.

    Seriously, though, just the manner in which graphs are presented can make a big difference in interpretation, even without manipulation or photoshop. For example, leaving out the origin for ratio data, or plotting two curves overlaid instead of plotting the difference.

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