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Altered Photo in Journal Article Illustrates the Need for Manipulation Guidelines

Lawrence, KS (PRWEB) June 19, 2013

The Journal of Parasitology – Although altering or improving photographs is common with today’s computer software, it creates questions of ethics. For scientific publications, it could represent a form of misconduct. As an already published case shows, scientific publications need clear guidelines for acceptable standards of photo manipulation.

The Journal of Parasitology features a commentary on a case of image manipulation in a 2004 article published in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society. The article’s methodology and results have also been criticized, although it does not appear that the authors intentionally misrepresented the evidence.

Delusional parasitosis, or Ekbom Syndrome, is a psychiatric disorder in which people have an unshakable—but false—belief that insects are infesting their home and body. However, the published paper, “Collembolla (Springtails) (Arthropoda: Hexapoda: Entognatha) Found in Scrapings from Individuals Diagnosed with Delusory Parasitosis,” offers evidence of actual parasites in patients with delusional parasitosis (DP). An erroneous conclusion could complicate patient treatment.

In the 2004 study by the Journal of the New York Entomological Society, skin scrapings from 20 DP patients and 20 control patients were examined. Photographs were taken only of those samples in the DP group that appeared to show the presence of tiny Collembolla insects. Among those photos, only one bears a resemblance to a Collembolla, according to experts who published a refutation of the study.

This one photo is controversial because it was altered from the original image. A portion of the photo was enlarged to show the suggested Collembollan. The image was edited with contrast tools to show more detail. Photo labeling also guides the viewer to see what the authors are trying to represent.

The refuting authors charge that the “enhanced” photo provides the basis of unethical image manipulation and data fabrication, a form of scientific misconduct. The lack of control samples offered for comparison and flawed methodology of nonblinded examination of participant and control group samples add weight to their argument. The lead author of the article admits to flawed methodology, but defends the conclusions, offering unaltered images at the website

The current commentary presents altered and unaltered versions of the photo in question, illustrating how the content can be changed. It reiterates the need for journals to have strict guidelines on what image manipulation is allowed, including requirements for authors to provide original images to a journal as well as complete descriptions within an article of photo alterations made to the published versions.

Full text of “Evidence of Photo Manipulation in a Delusional Parasitosis,” The Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 99, No. 3, 2013, is now available.

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