It’s All the Same…

Lisa was puzzled by the image of the gel featured in the research article in the current issue of Cell that she was reading. The bands in the two critical lanes on the gel that established the success of the pulse-chase experiment seemed virtually identical. Increasing the magnification of the image Lisa could see that the two lanes were indeed the same down to the size, shape, and tailing of each and every band. Increasing the magnification still further showed discontinuities in the background on one lane suggesting the image of that lane had been digitally copied and pasted onto the gel image. Confused she wasn’t sure exactly what to think. She was a summer undergraduate research student and admittedly a novice in this field of research. Lisa reasoned that the article had been peer-reviewed and was published in one of the top journals in the field so it didn’t seem possible that the data could have been fabricated or manipulated in any way. She was concerned that if she showed the article and shared her concerns with her research mentor that her research mentor might either think she was incredibly stupid or incredibly narcissistic.

Consider each of the following questions and evaluate the case study:

1. What is the action or inaction that is the cause for concern?


2. Who or what may be affected?


3. How will they be affected? (i.e., what are the possible consequences?)


4. Are there any laws, regulations written or unwritten that may apply?


5. What actions might be taken and what would the consequences of these actions be?


6. Can anything be done to prevent this from reoccurring or to minimize the severity of the consequences?


Basis for Case Study 8

In this case, a postdoctoral student allegedly “edited” a series of gel images in an article submitted for publication. A spot check by a journal editor caught the image manipulation and ultimately led to the discovery that the young scientist had done this on three other publications as well. The student lost her job but more importantly because the research impacted had been support by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the major source of financial support for biomedical research, the postdoctoral student was censured and prohibited from receiving NIH support for 5 years.

J.R. Young. (2008) Chronicle of Higher Education, May 29. “Journals Find Fakery in Many Images Submitted to Support Research.”