STC's longtime readers know that we "emphasize the unusual and the unexpected phenomena for which we have a special fascination." And in fact, there are so many exciting troves in the recent scientific literature ─ and in the older no less! ─ that we could easily blog three times a week... at least. But there are, occasionally, dregs of garbage we have to bite through. Here's a more trivial example pointed out to me on Twitter by Dieter Vandenheuvel from Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium.
In the journal Virulence, from the renowned scientific publishing house Taylor & Francis, a peer-reviewed study was published this August evaluating "...the immunogenicity of auxotrophic Lactobacillus with CRISPR-Cas9D10A system-mediated chromosomal editing...". Without going into the details of this multi-author study, let me present to you here their "Figure 4".
A clear result, the genetically changed lactobacilli grow only in the presence of D-alanine, as the authors expected. Except, it's not so clear. Click on the figure and you see in the popup the image duplications detected by Dieter Vandenheuvel. As he said on Twitter:"Yes, I do think that fraude in figures totally undermine the value of your scientific publication. Until you fix your (involuntary) mistakes, I'm chosing to not believe in the validity of your science." I concur. And, sure enough, the editors of Virulence were notified.
Whether this was an acceptable "honest mistake" during the preparation of the manuscript, or a deliberate deception, fraud, we might never find out. As of late November, a different version of the Li et al. (2022) paper is now online on the journal's website while still giving 'August 03' as publishing date. Without mentioning the update, this version now contains a significantly revised version [error404 as of 01/25/2023] of the "Figure 4" discussed here. Such a procedure, the exchange of indexed material, would not have been possible with the old-fashioned publication of printed journals. It was common practice back then ─ and by no means a loss of face, albeit occasionally a cause for gossip ─ to announce corrections in later volumes. In this instance there's no easy way of determining that the image was replaced. You only notice this opaque publication practice if you find 'December' as the month of publication of this paper in PubMed.
Since I have come to also feature work from preprints and not exclusively from peer‑reviewed papers, let me assure you that I take great care to evaluate the plausibility of figures although something certainly could still slip by me. Critical reading is always in order. This of course also applies to my own posts.
Addendum And then, besides what I rantingly called garbage, you can occasionally come across super-funny stuff in illustrations of scientific articles. Data scientist Josemari Feliciano (@SeriFeliciano) pointed out on Twitter the illustration you see here to the right. It stems from a paper published in the Journal Advances in Materials Science and Engineering by Hindawi. I marvel at the creative use of the capital T to mark the standard deviation in the bar chart. Interestingly, the calculated standard deviations for the individual categories/bars were always identical (read here to learn how the story unfolded over the last week).