Researchers are applying technology to detect falsification and plagiarism in published scientific studies.
Recent accusations of falsifying research at a prominent cancer institute have brought attention to the importance of scientific honesty and the efforts of non-experts in detecting manipulated images in published studies.
On January 22nd, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, stated that it is seeking retractions and corrections for scientific papers following concerns raised by a British blogger in early January.
Sholto David, a 32-year-old scientist-sleuth from Pontypridd, Wales, is known for uncovering instances of image manipulation in scientific papers through careful analysis.
He is not the sole enthusiast examining pixels. Other advocates for maintaining scientific integrity are closely monitoring researchers and science publications. They utilize specialized software, large computer screens, and their keen eyes to identify inverted, copied, and altered images, as well as potential instances of plagiarism.
Examining the circumstances at Dana-Farber and the investigators searching for careless mistakes and deliberate falsifications.
What occurred at Dana-Farber?
On January 2nd, Sholto David shared questionable pictures from over 30 research papers written by four scientists from Dana-Farber, including CEO Laurie Glimcher and COO William Hahn.
The scientists’ findings may have been influenced by duplicate segments in the images, potentially enhancing their results. The papers being examined focus on experiments conducted in a laboratory to study cellular mechanisms. One study utilized bone marrow samples from human subjects.
The article on the blog addressed concerns identified by David and other individuals who were previously brought to light by investigators on PubPeer, a platform that permits anonymous remarks on academic articles.
On January 12, The Harvard Crimson, a group of student journalists, wrote about the story. Other news outlets also reported on it. This story gained more attention due to a plagiarism investigation involving Claudine Gay, the former president of Harvard who stepped down earlier this year.
What was Dana-Farber’s response?
Dana-Farber said it already had been looking into some of the problems before the blog post. By Jan. 22, the institution said it was in the process of requesting six retractions of published research and that another 31 papers warranted corrections.
Retractions are a significant matter. If a journal retracts an article, it typically indicates that the research is deeply flawed and the results cannot be trusted anymore.
Dr. Barrett Rollins, research integrity officer at Dana-Farber, said in a statement: “Following the usual practice at Dana-Farber to review any potential data error and make corrections when warranted, the institution and its scientists already have taken prompt and decisive action in 97 percent of the cases that had been flagged by blogger Sholto David.”
Who are the detectives?
Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist from California, has been investigating for ten years. As a result of her efforts, 1,133 articles have been retracted, 1,017 have been corrected, and 153 expressions of concern have been printed by scientific journals. Bik maintains a spreadsheet to keep track of the outcomes after she brings issues to light.
She has uncovered altered pictures of bacteria, cell cultures, and western blots, a laboratory method used to identify proteins.
Bik stated to The Associated Press that the focus of science should be on discovering the truth. In 2016, she released a study through the American Society for Microbiology which revealed that out of over 20,000 peer-reviewed papers, almost 4% contained issues with images, with approximately half appearing to be intentionally manipulated.
Bik’s Patreon subscribers contribute approximately $2,300 each month, and she also receives occasional honoraria from speaking engagements. According to David, her Patreon income has recently increased to $216 per month.
According to Ivan Oransky, a medical journalism professor at New York University and co-founder of Retraction Watch blog, technology has simplified the process of uncovering image manipulation and plagiarism. The researchers utilize software tools to assist in identifying issues by downloading and analyzing scientific papers.
Others doing the investigative work remain anonymous and post their findings under pseudonyms. Together, they have “changed the equation” in scientific publication, Oransky said.
Oransky stated that there is a desire for improvement and action within the scientific community. However, many individuals in academia and publishing seem indifferent to correcting inaccurate information. Additionally, there is worry over the decline of public confidence in science.
What motivates misconduct?
According to Bik, certain mistakes may be due to carelessness, such as mislabeling images or accidentally selecting the incorrect photo.
However, certain images are clearly manipulated by duplicating, rotating, or flipping sections. Researchers who are striving for success in their field or aiming for tenure may feel compelled to publish their work. In some cases, they may deliberately fabricate data, taking advantage of the fact that the peer review process, in which a manuscript is evaluated by experts, may not identify any deceit.
Oransky explained that the ultimate goal is to have their work published. When the visuals do not align with the desired narrative, they are enhanced.
What happens next?
Research publications examine reported mistakes, however, they typically maintain confidentiality until they make a retraction or correction.
Several publications have been informed of the issues mentioned in David’s blog post and are currently investigating the situation.
Claims of fraudulent research being conducted at a prominent cancer institute have brought attention to the importance of scientific honesty and the efforts of non-experts in detecting manipulated images in published studies.
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is associated with Harvard Medical School, stated on January 22 that it is seeking to have scientific papers retracted and corrected after a British blogger brought up concerns in early January.
Sholto David, a 32-year-old blogger from Pontypridd, Wales, is a scientist and detective who identifies instances of image manipulation through copy and paste in scientific publications.
There are other individuals who share the hobby of examining pixels. These advocates for scientific honesty are closely monitoring researchers and science publications to ensure accuracy. They rely on specialized software, large computer screens, and their keen vision to detect altered, copied, and distorted images, as well as potential instances of plagiarism.
Examining the circumstances at Dana-Farber and the investigators searching for careless mistakes and deliberate falsehoods.
What occurred at Dana-Farber?
On January 2nd, Sholto David published a blog post that shared questionable images from over 30 research papers by four Dana-Farber researchers, which included CEO Laurie Glimcher and COO William Hahn.
Several pictures seemed to contain repeated parts that could potentially bolster the findings of the researchers. The studies being examined revolve around laboratory experiments on cellular mechanisms. One of the experiments used bone marrow samples from human participants.
The article on the blog featured issues identified by David and others, which were previously brought to light by investigators on PubPeer, a website that permits anonymous feedback on academic articles.
On January 12, student journalists from The Harvard Crimson reported on the story, which was then picked up by other news outlets. The focus on the story was heightened by the recent investigation into plagiarism by former Harvard president Claudine Gay, who stepped down earlier this year.
What was the reaction from Dana-Farber?
The Dana-Farber organization had already been investigating certain issues prior to the blog post. As of January 22nd, they reported that they were in the midst of requesting six retractions for published studies and had identified 31 other papers that required corrections.
Retractions are serious. When a journal retracts an article that usually means the research is so severely flawed that the findings are no longer reliable.
According to a statement from Dr. Barrett Rollins, the research integrity officer at Dana-Farber, the institution follows standard protocol to review and correct any possible data errors. As a result, 97 percent of the cases flagged by blogger Sholto David have been promptly and firmly addressed by the institution and its scientists.
Who are the detectives?
Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist from California, has been investigating for 10 years. As a result of her efforts, research publications have withdrawn 1,133 articles, made corrections to 1,017 others, and issued 153 expressions of concern. She keeps a record of the outcomes after she reports any issues in a spreadsheet.
She has discovered manipulated photographs of bacteria, cell cultures, and western blots, which is a laboratory method used to detect proteins.
According to Bik, the focus of science should be on discovering the truth. In 2016, she released a study through the American Society for Microbiology that found approximately 4% of over 20,000 peer-reviewed papers had issues with images, with about half appearing to be intentionally manipulated.
Bik’s efforts result in receiving approximately $2,300 per month from Patreon supporters and occasional compensation for speaking engagements. According to David, his monthly earnings from Patreon have recently increased to $216.
Ivan Oransky, a professor of medical journalism at New York University and co-founder of the Retraction Watch blog, stated that technology has simplified the process of identifying image manipulation and plagiarism. The investigators utilize software programs to assist them in uncovering issues while downloading scientific papers.
According to Oransky, individuals who are conducting investigations are choosing to remain unidentified and are sharing their discoveries using fake names. He also stated that their collective efforts have significantly altered the way scientific publications are being handled.
According to Oransky, they desire for science to improve and take action. They are dissatisfied with the lack of concern from individuals in academia and publishing when it comes to correcting inaccuracies. Additionally, they worry about the decline of public confidence in science.
What motivates misconduct?
According to Bik, certain mistakes may be due to careless errors such as incorrect labeling of images or simply selecting the wrong photo.
However, certain images clearly show signs of manipulation, such as duplicated or rotated sections. Researchers who are trying to establish themselves or secure tenure may feel compelled to publish their work. In some cases, they may deliberately fabricate data, confident that the peer review process, in which experts review a manuscript for feedback, will not detect any deceit.
Oransky stated that the ultimate goal is to be published, and sometimes this involves enhancing images to fit the narrative.
What happens next?
Academic publications examine reported mistakes, but typically maintain confidentiality until they make a retraction or correction.
Several journals have acknowledged the concerns brought up by David’s blog post and are currently investigating the issue.