EMBO Press journals use a three-tiered system to classify image and data aberrations detected in pre-publication screenings. This classification outlines the consequences for different types of image/data aberration and severities of data manipulation. Formal exchanges between editors and authors on image aberrations may be included as part of the transparent process documentation with the published paper (see Transparent Process). Confidential investigations or communication with institutional investigations will not be included.
Level I: Limited irregularities, cosmetic processing (‘beautification’) or mistakes with no impact on the reliability or interpretation of the data and no evidence for intent to mislead. Source data is available.
If the corresponding author(s) can provide a satisfactory explanation, source data and reverse the image processing underlying the aberrations, the revised figure will be accepted for publication without reporting to the institution.
Level II: Significant data “beautification” or undeclared image/data manipulations, which undermine objective data presentation and which change the scientific conclusions for key data. Intent to mislead cannot be excluded.
Depending on the author’s explanation, the availability of source data and the severity of the manipulations a revision may be allowed. All the co-authors will be notified. The authors’ institutions may be notified and the findings of an institutional investigation may be considered as part of the editorial process.
Level III: Severe image manipulation, with clear evidence of obfuscation and intent to mislead (splicing, cloning/duplication, insertion or selective deletion), typically in more than one image/data panel, with a lack of compelling source data.
If authors do not provide a compelling explanation, and source data with compelling provenance, the manuscript will be rejected; all the co-authors and their research institutions will be notified. Subsequent publication of the data in other journals will be monitored.