Most posts on this website are about duplications within or between figures in the same paper, or about duplications found between papers by the same group of authors. But now, our small group of image forensics detectives has come across a large set of papers – over 400 as of today – from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source. Based on the resemblance of the Western blot bands to tadpoles (the larval stage of an amphibian, such as a frog or a toad), we will call this the Tadpole Paper Mill.
Update: for those who cannot access the Google Sheets link above, here is a PDF version embedded in WordPress which I hope will work for all (generated March 3, 2020):
In a previous post, I wrote about the high percentage of image concerns in papers published in Oncotarget, an Open Access journal. PubPeer, the post-publication peer review website contains many posts about Oncotarget papers flagged by me and other image duplication detectives.
Instead of reflecting on these concerns and improving their peer review and quality control process, Oncotarget apparently has decided to try to prove that these concerns are not real.
How many image duplications in a paper would be acceptable? If the paper has two identical photos that represent different experiments, and the authors’ reply is: ‘Oops, we uploaded the wrong photo’, that would be acceptable. Mistakes happen, and the authors can correct the error by sending in an erratum with the correct photo(s). But should editors be equally forgiving in the case of two cases of “Oops, we made a mistake”, or other, more complicated scenarios?
In a previous post, I went over the three types of image duplications that can be found in biomedical papers. Those types of duplications, however, might be hard to understand for people who are not familiar with scientific photos of western blots or biological tissues.
In this post, I want to give some simple, non-scientific examples, to better explain which types of duplications I am looking for in published papers.
All too often, blots that appear to have duplicated lanes or cells (suggestive of photo manipulation) are corrected by the author with an “Oops, here is a new figure”. Bewilderingly, journals find this acceptable. This has to change.