STM Image Manipulation/Duplication Detection Working Group Makes Strides Towards Research Integrity

Damaging to the integrity of published research, alteration and duplication of research images and figures is an increasingly common challenge faced by the scholarly community. It directly introduces risks to the validity of the research results/claims, to the reputation of the journal or Authors, to the quality of published works, of time and money spent re-evaluating questionable reports, and to the work of related communities that rely on this research. As such, it is critical for publishers to identify and resolve instances of potential image manipulation or duplication early in the editorial process. However, this can be a lengthy and expensive bottleneck for publishers during workflow, which has led to a growing interest in automated tools to replace manual evaluations and improve research quality.

In response, the STM Standards and Technology Committee (STEC) established a working group dedicated to investigating the extent of automatic image duplication and/or manipulation in the industry, and the tools and techniques available to counter it. Currently operating as part of the STM Integrity Hub initiative, the working group focuses on answering outstanding questions, proposing guidance, and developing resources for assessing the severity, boundaries, and circumstances of common image aberration-related issues and the quality, adoptability, effectiveness, measurability, and interoperability of available tools. Aries Systems is a proud member of this working group.

Since founded, the STM Working Group on Image Alteration and Duplication Detection has made practical progress in the analysis of – and generation of resources for – research integrity in relation to image manipulation. Back in 2021, the group drafted a set of recommended best-practices for Editors who manage image integrity concerns pre- and post-publication. The guidelines designate principles and a three-tier classification for different types of image abnormalities commonly detected in screening of figures and other artwork in research articles. This was recently followed by a video highlighting common image alterations detected in scientific literature and how they can be verified. This video is the first in a series of instructional modules created to aid editorial office staff in the screening and handling of altered images in submitted papers.

In June 2022, they created a comprehensive checklist to help compare existing image screening tools and services in the industry. The list of requirements and features includes a suggested prioritization of the application features based on availability or development, and the group invited providers of these solutions to self-evaluate their services against the drafted list. This allowed the STM Integrity Hub to consolidate information from four image detection technology providers into a helpful fact sheet for the scholarly publishing community’s reference in December 2022. A summary of product capabilities between ImageTwin, Proofig, FigCheck, and Imacheck is available in a detailed comparison chart.

Aries Systems is pleased to collaborate alongside other organizations represented in the working group, including the American Physiological Society, American Chemical Society, Atypon, BMJ, Elsevier, EMBO Press, Rockefeller University Press, Springer Nature, and Taylor & Francis.

The proactive efforts of the STM Working Group on Image Alteration and Duplication Detection provide important insights and resources for the publishing landscape. Not only does the group support research integrity to inspire trust in scholarly publishing, but demonstrates cross-organizational partnership against a common goal for the better of the community in which they represent and serve.