Monday, 25 May 2009


The FT (UK Financial Times) at the weekend here had this excellent article about fraud and manipulation in scientific experiments. There are 3 book reviews one of which is a novel in the emerging genre of 'lab lit'.

But what really interested me was this paragraph in the article:

"[The fraudulent scientist who featured in one of the book reviews] was ultimately exposed not by the dozens of people who tried to replicate and follow up his work but by two physicists who noticed that [he] had used identical data in papers about two different experiments, published respectively in Nature and Science.

By focusing on individual cases, the three books miss out on the broader view of scientific fraud and misconduct. Indeed, even more worrying than the serious cases, says Farthing, is “the undercurrent of low-grade alteration of results, which occurs much more commonly and which is perturbing the scientific literature”. New technology increases the scope for alteration, for example by subtle digital manipulation of images."

He is dead right. Take for example this photo I manipulated some time ago. A blue rose growing on a pink rose bush by the side of the road? No a pink rose bush with one of the flowers having been Photoshop painted blue by me.

Mostly what I do is 'tidy' extraneous stuff out of photos so they are less cluttered (which, of course, is still manipulation). I wanted the shape of this particular keel - not the whole boat - for comparison purposes. So I took out the background clutter to try to improve it.

Many of the photos that I tidy, e.g. erase a name or telephone lines, you would be hard put to see where they had been doctored. I suppose one day there will be forensic tests to check for this. How would you ever know, for example, that a couple of dots, one pixel in size, on a digital image of an x-y axes graph had been erased?

Newspaper cartoon is by Ferguson of the Financial Times, Life & Arts Section, May 23-24, 2009. page 13. Article is by Clive Cookson.

No comments: