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What is Wrong With This Picture?

Guest Editors: Buzz Baum, Karl Broman, John Brookfield, Shinichi Nakagawa

A picture is worth a thousand words - but in scientific research articles, figures can often miscommunicate the data that authors present to their readers, leading to the wrong conclusions. Histograms, linear regression graphs or microscope images, for example, can all contain different errors that may ultimately mislead readers in their interpretation of diverse data.

In this series, BMC Biology explores some common mistakes authors make when interpreting and presenting their results graphically. The examples shown here, based on real research articles, can be used as a guide in generating more accurate and informative figures.

Our emblem for the series is our own iconic image, shown here, itself egregiously misleading if taken literally: http://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7007-10-76

  1. Comment

    Quantifying western blots: none more black

    Western blotting is among the most common techniques used in molecular biology and a simple way of assessing the presence or absence of a protein. It is also commonly used to compare protein levels in differen...

    Graham Bell

    BMC Biology 2016 14:116

    Published on: 28 December 2016

  2. Comment

    Biased image cropping and non-independent samples

    Any figure in a research article will typically represent only a small portion of the total data gained by a researcher for that experiment, and it is therefore key that the figure accurately reflects what was...

    John F. Y. Brookfield

    BMC Biology 2016 14:85

    Published on: 4 October 2016

  3. Comment

    Tales of significance

    In this experiment, the authors were interested in testing the effect of a small molecule inhibitor on the ratio of males and females in the offspring of their model Dipteran species. The authors report that i...

    Graham Bell

    BMC Biology 2016 14:51

    Published on: 23 June 2016

  4. Comment

    Relatively speaking

    Protein X is a signalling molecule that stimulates apoptosis. Treatment of cells with Protein X results in five times higher levels of cell death than those seen in untreated cells (wild type), as measured by ...

    Graham Bell

    BMC Biology 2016 14:42

    Published on: 24 May 2016

  5. Comment

    Replicates and repeats

    The authors of this paper were interested to see whether the expression of three proteins (A, B and C) was altered in a knockout mouse model of a gene encoding Protein X. Each experiment measured the expressio...

    Graham Bell

    BMC Biology 2016 14:28

    Published on: 7 April 2016

  6. Comment

    Fighting for independence

    Male crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) establish dominance hierarchies within a population by fighting with one another. Larger males win fights more frequently than their smaller counterparts, and a previous study ...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2016 14:4

    Published on: 19 January 2016

  7. Comment

    Double take

    Zebrafish are able to regenerate various organs and tissues after damage or amputation. To understand better the genetic controls of this process, the authors of this study investigated the expression of two g...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:109

    Published on: 22 December 2015

  8. Comment

    Statistical or biological significance?

    Oat plants grown at an agricultural research facility produce higher yields in Field 1 than in Field 2, under well fertilised conditions and with similar weather exposure; all oat plants in both fields are hea...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:91

    Published on: 5 November 2015

  9. Comment

    Multiple comparisons

    Oat plants grown at an agricultural research facility produce higher yields in Field 1 than in Field 2, under well fertilised conditions and with similar weather exposure; all oat plants in both fields are hea...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:86

    Published on: 23 October 2015

  10. Comment

    Drawing the line

    The pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum is an agriculturally important pest of leguminous plants including peas and broad beans. The widespread use of chemical pesticides impacts heavily on the environment, and increas...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:83

    Published on: 2 October 2015

  11. Comment

    Defining the null hypothesis

    Virus B is a newly emerged viral strain for which there is no current treatment. Drug A was identified as a potential treatment for infection with virus B. In this pre-clinical phase of drug testing, the effec...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:68

    Published on: 29 August 2015

  12. Comment

    Over the rainbow

    Shear stress in arteries, which is a measure of the force exerted by blood flow on the arterial wall, is associated with the location of lipid plaques that cause heart disease. In this study, a mathematical mo...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:62

    Published on: 6 August 2015

  13. Comment

    Quality controls

    Some steroid drugs are designed for clinical use to combat muscle-wasting diseases, but are also used by athletes to improve their performance by increasing muscle strength or endurance. This study investigate...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:61

    Published on: 6 August 2015

  14. Comment

    Beyond bar charts

    Probiotic treatments are thought to increase the levels of commensal bacterial species that populate the human gut, causing no harm to their host and playing an important role in maintaining gut health. This s...

    Emma Saxon

    BMC Biology 2015 13:60

    Published on: 6 August 2015

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