Policy on the Manipulation of Digital Images

The issue of the manipulation of digital images has come to the forefront recently due to several publicized cases. Two members of the MIC (D.T. and M.W.) attended a brief workshop on the ethical manipulation of digital issues held at the annual Spring meeting of the New England Society for Microscopy in May, 2006. The consensus of the meeting was that there really is no strong universal consensus on how this issue should be handled. The Microscopy Society of America has issued a policy on this issue (see Reference #2 below). We in the MIC have considered this issue in depth and how it may impact our clients. Based upon these considerations, we have adopted a modified statement from the Journal of Cell Biology as the MIC Policy on the Manipulation of Digital Images.

“No specific feature within an image may be enhanced, obscured, moved, removed or introduced. The grouping of images from different fields of view or exposures must be made explicit by the arrangement of the figure (e.g., using dividing lines) and in the text of the figure legend. Adjustments of brightness, contrast, or color balance are acceptable if they are applied to the whole image (and to corresponding control images as well), as long as they do not obscure or eliminate any information present in the original. Nonlinear adjustments (e.g., changes to gamma settings) must be disclosed in the figure legend.”

It is our policy in the MIC to encourage clients to optimize their cell/tissue processing and image capture parameters initially so that post-image capture manipulation is unnecessary. It is also good policy to relate any image manipulation performed in the figure legend, even if deemed to be minor. However, remember that the “raw” image must be maintained, so that any manipulations are saved to a “copy” of the image. Journals may request to see the original raw, unaltered image (see Reference #7 below).

If you have any questions regarding this policy, please see a member of the MIC staff. A good discussion describing issues related to digital image manipulation can be found in the following references: