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Data Selection and Retention - Case A5

John Sato, a young technician in an immunology laboratory , is anxious to read a paper recently published in a national scientific journal by Michelle Greer, one of the postdoctoral fellows in his lab. John assisted Michelle in preparing the electron micrographs that provided the empirical support needed for Michelle's central thesis concerning the surface characteristics of a certain class of lymphocytes. John was supposed to receive photo credits and he was excited about seeing his name in print.

On Friday, when the journal arrived in the lab, John noticed that the electron micrographs were not quite as he remembered them. He recalled that he and Michelle had some difficulty in interpreting which of the surface structures visible in the micrographs were of the type that interested Michelle, and which were irrelevant to the thesis of Michelle's research. In the published images, the differences in the structures seemed greatly exaggerated and more uniformly corresponded to their description in the text than John recalled being the case. Knowing that Michelle had the original photographic materials, he began to wonder if Michelle hadn't done something artificial to enhance them.

Initially, John was reluctant to challenge Michelle on this point. Nonetheless, the electron micrographs were credited to John and he believed it was unfair for Michelle to alter his work without consultation. After mustering his nerve, John did question Michelle, who admitted rather unabashedly that she had employed some "enhancement techniques" to improve the clarity of the images. These micrographs were for publication, after all, Michelle said, and needed to be of the best quality and clarity they could obtain. There was nothing wrong with this, Michelle asserted, as long as the images were merely "enhanced" but not altered to change their fundamental characteristics.

Questions:

  1. Is it acceptable to enhance visual presentations submitted for publication in the manner described in the case? What are acceptable ways to enhance photographic illustrations? Is there a difference between "enhancing" visual presentations and "altering" them?
  2. After turning over to Michelle the electron micrographs and the negatives that he prepared, to what extent does John bear responsibility in monitoring or ensuring what happens to those materials when prepared for submission to a journal?
  3. John is a technician and has limited responsibility for the final product of this research effort. Would this responsibility be different if he were a postdoctoral fellow or a senior scientist himself? What if he were listed as a coauthor?
  4. Now that the electron micrographs are in print, should John do anything further? Assume that John continues to feel unsettled about having his name associated with images that do not reflect his original work. How might he address those concerns?
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