India’s premier institution Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru too seems to have problems with images in papers published in journals. At last count, 33 papers published by half a dozen researchers have images that have been duplicated. While most of the image duplication is within the sane paper, a couple of images have been reused in more than one paper. None of the images appear to have been manipulated.
All the problematic images have been posted by researchers on the Pubpeer website. The Pubpeer website allows independent scientists to publish post-publication review of scientific papers.
All the papers listed on Pubpeer where the authors have already not admitted to mistakes in the images were cross-checked by Dr. Elisabeth Bik. Dr. Bik is a Science Consultant at Harbers-Bik LLC, San Francisco, California and an expert in identifying duplication and manipulation in images.
Prof. Akhil R. Chakravarty from the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry has 13 problematic papers listed on the website. He is the corresponding author in all the 13 papers. Erratum has already been published in the journals for six of the 13 papers.
Prof. Avadhesha Surolia from the Molecular Biophysics Unit at IISc has four papers with problematic images. While he is the corresponding author in three papers, he is only a co-author in the fourth. In a note on the Pubpeer website, the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, which published one of Prof. Surolia’s paper last year, says it is “looking into this issue” of image duplication.
“All the mistakes/errors that were there in the papers [have been] rectified now and most of the corrections have already appeared in the respective journals. Some are in the process of publication as erratum/corrigendum/addition-correction,” Prof. Chakravarty mentioned in email to The Hindu. “All the alerts came at a time in December 2018. We [have been] successful in rectifying the errors within six months time.”
On why 13 papers from his group have problems with images, Prof. Chakravarty says: “These papers are during the last 10 years. There is no problem with the majority of the images. Only problem was how they were presented. That gave an impression that the gel lanes are copied. Wherever there were serious mistakes, we accepted that and requested the editors to permit us to submit the corrections. With due permission, we submitted the corrections and got the mistakes corrected… The conclusions of the papers remain the same.”
“As the senior author of the publications, I accept the blame for these errors,” he adds. “I have asked my students to be very careful when they get the images from the institute facilities. I have also requested my collaborators to thoroughly check the images. I am looking carefully [at] the data from my research group. We are now trying to get the software for checking image duplication.”
In an email to The Hindu, Prof. Sathees Raghavan from the Department of Biochemistry at IISc, who has two papers listed on Pubpeer says: “In one of the papers two images (control and one of the treated sample) were duplicated. Upon cross-checking the originals, we found out that this happened during copy pasting of images. There will not be any change in the conclusions drawn. Nevertheless, I am in the process of correcting this in the journal.”
“The second problem pointed out was use of common control for Comet assay used for three compounds published as independent articles in journals. While going through the experimental note book of the Postdoc who conducted the study, we now figured out that Comet assay for all three compounds was done at the same time and therefore a common control was used. In this scenario, I am contacting the journal to see whether a correction is required,” Prof. Raghavan adds. “Although, all these were unintentional errors, I have brought several new rules to lab to ensure that such errors are not repeated.”
Responding to an email, Prof. Annapoorni Rangarajan from the Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics defends the Western blot image in one of her papers posted on Pubpeer. She says: “Due to the dearth of space allocated by the journals, the whole blots are not usually shown in the manuscript and typically only the portions of the blots containing the data are provided. Such presentation of the Western blots, though conventionally accepted in the scientific community, may mislead the inexperienced readers but the Reviewers of the manuscripts who are expert in these techniques understand and approve of them.”
Admitting to duplication of images in another paper of hers, Prof. Rangarajan says: “There has indeed been an error in the topmost panel in Fig. 2d. While assembling 36 images in this sub-figure, one image has been inadvertently shown twice. We will provide the journal with the correct image and request the editor to publish an erratum. This will in no way affect the conclusions drawn in the paper.”