Just before a study appears in any of ten journals published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), it undergoes an unusual extra check. Since January 2021, the AACR has been using artificial intelligence (AI) software on all manuscripts it has provisionally accepted after peer review. The aim is to automatically alert editors to duplicated images, including those in which parts have been rotated, filtered, flipped or stretched.
The AACR is an early adopter in what could become a trend. Hoping to avoid publishing papers with images that have been doctored — whether because of outright fraud or inappropriate attempts to beautify findings — many journals have hired people to manually scan submitted manuscripts for issues, often using software to help check what they find. But Nature has learnt that in the past year, at least four publishers have started automating the process by relying on AI software to spot duplications and partial duplications before manuscripts are published.
The AACR tried numerous software products before it settled on a service from Proofig, a firm in Rehovot, Israel, says Daniel Evanko, director of journal operations at the association in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “We’re very happy with it,” he adds. He hopes the screening will aid researchers and reduce problems after publication.
Professional editors are still needed to decide what to do when the software flags images. If data sets are deliberately shown twice — with explanations — then repeated images might be appropriate, for instance. And some duplications might be simple copy-and-paste errors during manuscript assembly, rather than fraud. All this can be resolved only with discussions between editors and authors. Now that AI is getting sufficiently effective and low-cost, however, specialists say a wave of automated image-checking assistants could sweep through the scientific publishing industry in the next few years, much as using software to check manuscripts for plagiarism became routine a decade ago. Publishing-industry groups also say they are exploring ways to compare images in manuscripts across journals.
Link to the rest at Nature