University sources indicate that Michael McPherson, a second-year graduate student in the Phillips lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been internally debating the level of image manipulation which is acceptable from an ethical standpoint. McPherson's internal dialogue, which has reportedly been running since approximately 3:17 pm Sunday afternoon, and continues to do so, is still deeply consumed with the implications of altering the coloring, saturation, and brightness of a series of electrophoresis gels intended to correlate the use of a natural product with increased expression of pro-apoptotic proteins in several cancer cell lines.
Gene Maloney, an older colleague of McPherson, stated that he observed the student staring, seemingly blankly, at several images open in Photoshop on his computer screen.
"He [McPherson] was just looking at the screen with this thousand-yard-stare. Occasionally, he'd move the slider on the gamma channel back and forth a little, then mumble some disjointed comment about 'scientific integrity.' I don't get what he's so hung up about; if we didn't adjust color and contrast a little here and there, literally nothing would ever get published in molecular biology."
Sources inside McPherson's conscience gave further insight into the internal struggle facing the graduate student. "Obviously there are some tough choices here. The culture existent in the scientific community imposes a need for graduate students to publish frequently in high-impact journals in order to be viewed as productive and relevant. Therefore there is intense pressure on students to come up with data that is viewed as 'groundbreaking,' a natural consequence of which is the need to make subtle falsifications and fabrications in datasets" stated a horned, miniature version of McPherson clad in a dark cloak and grasping a flaming trident.
An equally small copy of the student, seemingly emanating intense light, clothed in a brilliant white robe and holding a scepter, added "But he's a student at an elite research university! As scientists we must maintain an impeccable standard of ethics, lest the public lose trust in our work. After all, it's a slippery slope from slight image 'touch-ups' to completely fabricating data."
As of press time, a visibly shaken McPherson had decided that "muting the controls a little" and "maybe increasing the saturation on the knockout models" was acceptable.