Events


Rossner1croppedIn January 2006, two high-profile papers by South Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang were retracted after they were found to be based on fabricated data. Hwang and his lab members claimed to have successfully cloned human stem cells for the first time. But their results were discarded after it was found that, in addition to engaging in other types of data fraud, they had misleadingly altered images of stem cells.

The incident, which made headlines worldwide, is a perfect example of scientists succumbing to “the temptation of image manipulation,” according to Mike Rossner (above), executive director of the Rockefeller University Press and former managing editor of the peer-reviewed research publication Journal of Cell Biology (JCB).

Altering digital images is easy for anyone with access to Adobe Photoshop or similar digital image editing software. Many nonprofessionals regularly touch up their personal digital photos. It seems natural that scientists, who typically present their data in the form of images, would find it helpful to edit photos to clarify their results. But researchers who modify figures risk misleading their readers, whether or not they intend to deceive.

Rossner, who gave the MBL Special Lecture in Bioethics last week, heads up a powerful effort to detect image manipulation before papers are published in JCB. In many cases, detecting image manipulation is as simple as altering contrast (see image below) or examining mirror images in Photoshop. These techniques can reveal problems like deletion or addition of part of an image, duplication of an image, and misleading contrast adjustments. JCB examines every image used in papers submitted for publication, ensuring any image manipulation does not violate its thorough guidelines.

JCB guidelines divide manipulation misconduct into two categories. Inappropriate manipulation violates the journal’s guidelines but does not lead to misinterpretation of data. Fraudulent image manipulation does result in data misinterpretation. Rossner reports that more than 25 percent of all manuscripts submitted to JCB have at least one inappropriately altered image that needs to be remade, while one percent contain fraudulent images, keeping such papers from being published.

Rossner shared some of the responses JCB receives from investigators when they are informed of inappropriate or fraudulent image manipulation in their manuscripts. Some are indignant. “Everyone does it,” read one author’s e-mail. Others insist that the manipulation is OK because it is more representative of their overall data set. But, Rossner says, “We do get mostly appropriate responses from authors.” Indeed, many authors are grateful to be notified of image issues before publication, since the repercussions of publishing a paper with fraudulent data can ruin careers.

After presenting tips on how to avoid inappropriate image manipulation, Rossner shared a new tool that allows readers to view the original, raw images that the authors obtained from their lab equipment. Called JCB DataViewer, it is currently only used for images in JCB articles but, according to Rossner, “we hope this may become a model for a standard for publication of image data in the publishing industry.” JCB developed the DataViewer in collaboration with Glencoe Software, which utilizes an open-source microscopy environment (OMERO) co-developed by Jason Swedlow, co-director of the MBL’s Analytical and Quantitative Light Microscopy course.

Rossner finished his talk by emphasizing that science does not equal art. “You are looking for the most accurate representation of your data, not the prettiest representation of your data.”

The top panel of this figure appears to display adjacent cells in a microscope image. But adjusting the contrast of the image reveals that some of the cells were copied into the figure from another photo. (from Rossner, M., and Yamada, K. M. (2004) J. Cell Biol.166:11-15.)

The top panel of this figure appears to display adjacent cells in a microscope image. But adjusting the contrast of the image reveals that some of the cells were copied into the figure from another photo. (from Rossner, M., and Yamada, K. M. (2004) J. Cell Biol. 166:11-15.)

Denise LoydA grad student, a post-doc, and a visiting scientist walk into a lab. What happens? Well, better science! Better, that is, than for a group composed of all post-docs, or all grad students, or all scientists from the same institution, according to Denise Loyd (left), an assistant professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Loyd, who studies the effects of diversity in groups, presented her research last week in a talk sponsored by the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative.  Loyd provided evidence that the presence of diversity in a group strengthens discussions in which final group decisions are made. Groups in which a majority of members fall into one category (based on race, background, institution affiliation, etc.), while a minority fall into another, put more time and thought into their conclusions.

We might assume the benefits of diversity in groups are solely attributable to the unique perspectives of the minority members. However, Loyd’s research shows that the simple existence of diversity can alter group dynamics in such a way that brings out different, positive behaviors in majority members, such as showing greater openness to others’ ideas.

Loyd also emphasized the importance of seeking out the unique strengths of members who may have lower perceived status in a group, such as undergraduates working in a lab with graduate students and post-docs. Her talk will no doubt prove useful to Woods Hole scientists and other community members seeking to strengthen group efforts. It also might help explain why the peer-to-peer dynamic in the MBL’s courses—where students problem-solve real-world research problems alongside some of the world’s top scientists—is often so energizing and productive.

Loyd’s talk was part of a Woods Hole Diversity Initiative event series called  “Synergy and the Group; the Hidden Power of Diversity.” For more information on upcoming events, visit http://www.woodsholediversity.org/.

Part of what makes the MBL unique is that its biologists are able to learn so much from the marine animals found just offshore. Fundamental biological processes in these creatures are often similar or identical to those in other species, including humans. For example, MBL scientists use sea urchins to study embryo development, sharks to study the neural basis of behavior, and squid to study nerve cells.

Last week, members and guests of the MBL Board of Trustees and Board of Overseers enjoyed a tour  aboard the MBL’s collecting boat, the R/V Gemma. Below is a photo tour of their excursion, as sea urchins, starfish, and other model organisms destined to help MBL scientists in their studies were netted. Animals collected on the R/V Gemma are brought back to the MBL’s Marine Resources Center, where they are maintained until they’re used for research.

R/V Gemma crew members prepare to haul in a net used for catching plankton.

R/V Gemma crew members prepare to haul in a net used for catching plankton. The boat leaves from Eel Pond in Woods Hole and heads two miles offshore into Vineyard Sound for sample collection.

____________ explains the importance of plankton as copepods, small crustaceans, swim around in his sample jar.

Ed Enos, superintendent of the MBL's Aquatic Resources Department, explains the importance of plankton in the food chain as copepods (small crustaceans) swim around in his sample jar. Looking on is William (Bill) Zammer, a member of the MBL Board of Overseers.

Crew members bring in a net after dragging it along the seafloor to catch crabs, sea urchins, starfish, and other creatures.

Crew members bring up a scallop dredge after dragging it along the seafloor to catch crabs, sea urchins, starfish, and other creatures.

A crab tries to escape across the deck, away from the sea urchins and shells piled up behind it.

A crab wanders away from the sea urchins and shells piled up behind it. Crew members will sift through the pile, keeping some animals for MBL research and returning the rest to the ocean.

One catch of the day is this slimy set of translucent squid egg cases.

One catch of the day is this slimy set of translucent squid egg cases.

This sea star is regenerating a lost leg, a process that has been studied at the MBL.

This sea star is regenerating a lost leg, a cellular process that is studied at the MBL.
Back in Eel Pond, the Gemma is docked near the Marine Resources Center. Ebert Hall is in the background.

Back at Eel Pond, the R/V Gemma is docked near the Marine Resources Center. Ebert Hall is in the background.

For more information on the R/V Gemma, visit http://www.mbl.edu/mrc/outreach/gemma.html.

By Sarah Stanley

Renowned poet, playwright, and Simmons College professor Afaa Michael Weaver treated the Woods Hole community to a poetry reading on Friday for the village’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Weaver, a Baltimore native who spent several years working with his father and uncles in a factory before embarking on a remarkable literary career, read a number of poems to honor the June 19, 1865, implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, over two years after it was signed into law. The anniversary of the law’s enforcement is now celebrated as Juneteenth, commemorating the national abolishment of slavery.

Afaa Michael Weaver performs a poetry reading for Woods Hole’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Photo by Sarah Stanley

Afaa Michael Weaver presents a poetry reading at Woods Hole’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Photo by Sarah Stanley

Surrounded by antique botanical prints, Weaver captivated the crowd gathered in the Meigs Room of Swope Conference Center. His selections showed his wide range as a poet, covering topics from childhood crushes to familial love, from personal growth to class and race. He opened, appropriately, with a poem called “Science,” in which his childhood self begs to be rescued from science class. He followed with thoughtful poems— many dedicated to various family members, friends, and acquaintances—that recalled experiences throughout his life. “Remember,” a particularly poignant poem written for his granddaughter, urges her repeatedly to alert him if he forgets to protect her:

If I forget to plug the sun,

let me know

If I forget to tame the sharks’ teeth,

let me know

If I forget to stop the tsunamis,

let me know

If I forget to tie up the bears,

let me know

If I forget to chase away the viruses,

let me know…

“[Poetry is] my way of legitimizing my life,” Weaver said in a Q&A after the reading. “It led me gradually to a realization of who I am spiritually and secularly.”

Scientists and other community members enjoyed Weaver’s readings before heading into the late afternoon sun for a barbeque on the lawn at the nearby NOAA Fisheries Service.

The event was organized by the Black History Month Committee, which includes members from the MBL, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Sea Education Association, USGS Science Center for Coastal and Marine Geology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Woods Hole Research Center. The committee celebrates and educates the Woods Hole community on African American history and culture.

It’s summer! Welcome back to the MBL and our seasonal blog, @MBL. We are firing up our “Photo of the Week” series again, and we’d love to feature your shots of life at the MBL: what’s unique, intriguing, beautiful, funny, classic. Please send “Photo of the Week” submissions to mblnews@mbl.edu, and include caption information (who, what, when, where, why).

Earlier this month, Loeb Laboratory suddenly morphed from a beautiful, but quiet, showcase for modern lab design to a energized beehive of MBL students and faculty. And over in Rowe Laboratory, the rooms are filling up with researchers from around the world. MBL Club activities began yesterday, and already there is a full schedule of lectures and other events on campus to inspire and entertain you. Have fun choosing!

Woods Hole aerial by Karen Casciotti

Woods Hole aerial by Karen Casciotti

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