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News Feature: Image Manipulation Software

January 17, 2023, #26

Mike Rossner wrote a recent guest post for Scholarly Kitchen about why “Publishers Should Be Transparent About the Capabilities and Limitations of Software They Use to Detect Image Manipulation or Duplication”¹. Rossner was “Managing Editor of The Journal of Cell Biology” and now has his own company called Image Data Integrity, Inc. His post discusses the STM Integrity Hub, which offers software to detect image manipulation. Automating the complex process of detecting image manipulation is a longstanding goal of both publishers and universities. Rossner writes that “[i]n the past decade, numerous software applications have been developed for the automated detection of image manipulation/ duplication. These applications present the possibility of screening images at a scale that is not practical with visual inspection, and their use has the potential to protect the published literature in ways that were not previously possible. Several of them are now commercially available.”¹ While this is good news, skepticism remains. Rossner writes: “In my opinion, visual inspection remains the gold standard for screening images for manipulation/duplication within an individual article or for image comparisons across a few articles, especially when a processed image in a composed figure can be compared directly to the source data that were acquired in the lab.”¹ He argues that the test data and the test results need to be made public. He cautions that any testing needs independent verification because it is “not unheard of for entities with a vested interest in a product to test it themselves.”¹ He recommends that “the validation data for software designed to protect the [public health and safety record] should at least be made public….”¹ This kind of transparency is a goal that the scholarly world broadly supports, but at least two challenges remain. One is to define the exact nature of the transparency, since software developers are not typically eager to give away secrets. The second is to ensure that the software can distinguish among different kinds of manipulations, since removing a scratch is significantly different than pasting external elements into an image.


1: Rossner, Mike. 2023. ‘Guest Post — Publishers Should Be Transparent About the Capabilities and Limitations of Software They Use to Detect Image Manipulation or Duplication’. The Scholarly Kitchen. 10 January 2023.


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