When you think of plagiarism, poems and books probably spring to mind more easily than, say, scientific papers. And words more easily than images. But plagiarism is not uncommon in science papers, and it often takes the form of images fiddled with and grafted from elsewhere. Whether they’re a consequence of laziness or a desire to mislead, these have played a role in the replication crisis many disciplines are now facing.
It’s a lot more difficult to detect plagiarism and fraud in scientific images than in written text. And even when you have irrefutable proof of wrongdoing, there are some surprising barriers to holding its authors to account. Nonetheless, some people are up to the task.
Meet Elisabeth Bik: by day, a mild-mannered director of science at a microbiome startup. By night (and on weekends), she takes to the internet and sifts through the scientific literature for the subtle visual fingerprints of misconduct. She has identified more than a thousand fraudulent images, and her work has led at least one journal to change the way it screens submissions. Her work has been featured several times by Retraction Watch, a blog that flays scientific malfeasance*.