Sometimes images in scientific manuscripts are too "beautified," sometimes there was an error when putting the manuscript together, and sometimes the images are illicitly manipulated. At EMBO Press, it's Jana Christopher's job to sniff these images out as a data integrity analyst.
"It's a simple process, but you need to know where to look," she tells Nature News. "For example, it is much harder to spot when the blank background on a gel has been cloned — it takes an experienced eye to spot those patterns."
Christopher has a background as a theatre makeup artist and translator, not in science, Nature News notes, but got into image forensics after working as a journals assistant, and has been checking images at EMBO since 2011.
Some 20 percent of papers have issues, she says, though most of the aberrations she finds are honest mistakes. Only about 1 percent amounts to serious enough manipulation for the manuscript to be rejected, she adds.
"It's a small contribution I make, but a significant one," Christopher says. "If you look at the number of mistakes we manage to correct before publication, I think it is worth it. It's especially nice to get replies from authors who are really grateful when we spot errors."