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Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) is an international peer-reviewed journal owned by The Rockefeller University and published by Rockefeller University Press.

In the early 1950s, a small group of biologists began to explore intracellular anatomy using the emerging technology of electron microscopy. Many of these researchers were at The Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, the predecessor of The Rockefeller University. As their work progressed to publication, they were disappointed with the limited quality of halftone image reproduction in the printed journals of the time, and they were frustrated by the narrow editorial policies of existing journals regarding their image-based results. In 1954, the director of The Rockefeller Institute, Detlev Bronk, convened a luncheon to discuss the creation of a new journal as a venue for publication of this type of work (Porter and Bennett, 1981).

The first issue of The Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology was published less than a year later on January 25, 1955. A subscription cost $15 per year. The list of editors comprised Richard S. Bear, H. Stanley Bennett, Albert L. Lehninger, George E. Palade, Keith R. Porter, Francis O. Schmitt, Franz Schrader, and Arnold M. Seligman. The instructions to authors described the scope of the journal: “The Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology is designed to provide a common medium for the publication of morphological, biophysical, and biochemical investigations on cells, their components, and their products. It will give special attention to reports on cellular organization at the colloidal and molecular levels and to studies integrating cytological information derived from various technical approaches.” Recognizing that they needed a catchier title, the editors changed the name to The Journal of Cell Biology in 1962.

The discipline of cell biology emerged and developed on the pages of JCB. Many seminal discoveries have been published in the journal, including the first descriptions of numerous cellular functions and structures, such as the secretory pathway (Siekevitz and Palade, 1958, 1960; Caro and Palade, 1964; Jamieson and Palade, 1967a,b, 1971), mitochondrial (Nass and Nass, 1963a,b) and chloroplast (Ris and Plaut, 1962) DNA, microtubules (Slautterback, 1963; Ledbetter and Porter, 1963), intermediate filaments (Ishikawa et al., 1968), tight junctions (Farquhar and Palade, 1963) (including occludins [Furuse et al., 1993] and claudins [Furuse et al., 1998]), adherens junctions (Farquhar and Palade, 1963), and cadherins (Takeichi, 1977).

Public access

JCB was first published online on January 13, 1997. All content was free to the public during that first year of online publication. In January 1998, all primary research content was placed under access controls.

In January 2001, in response to calls from the research community to provide free access to the results of publicly funded research, JCB was one of the first journals to release its primary research content to the public six months after publication (Mellman, 2001).

In June 2003, all of the back content of JCB starting from volume 1, issue 1 was posted on the JCB website. This was a large investment by the journal for the good of the research community. The back content was provided to the public for free and remains a free resource (Mellman, 2004).

In November 2007, in anticipation of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandate on public access to the results of NIH-funded research, JCB began depositing all of its content in PubMed Central, where the final, published version is released to the public six months after publication (Hill, 2007).

In December 2016 an Open Access option was introduced for authors of primary research.

The full content of JCB has always been free online in over 100 developing nations.

Copyright and third party use

In July of 2000, JCB began to harness the power of the internet to promote further distribution of its content when it became one of the first journals to allow authors to post the final, published PDF file of their articles on their own websites. On May 1, 2008, JCB changed its traditional copyright policy to allow authors to retain copyright to their own works (Hill and Rossner, 2008). Authors can do anything they want with their published articles, including for commercial gain. At the same time, the content of JCB was opened up to use by third parties under a Creative Commons license ( The only restriction on this use by third parties is that they cannot create a free mirror site of JCB content within the first six months after publication.

Data integrity

Origins of image screening

In 2002, JCB adopted a completely electronic production workflow. This means that all text is submitted as electronic document files and all figures are submitted as electronic image files. While formatting figure files for an accepted manuscript, a Western blot was discovered in which the intensity of a single band had been selectively adjusted relative to the other bands.

The original data were obtained from the authors, and it was evident that the manipulation affected the interpretation of the data. The editorial acceptance of the manuscript was revoked, and JCB immediately initiated a policy to screen all images in all accepted papers for evidence of image manipulation (Rossner, 2002).

Guidelines for handling digital images

In consultation with practicing scientists on the editorial board, JCB developed guidelines for handling digital images, which were first published in June 2003 (Rossner, 2003). The current version is available here. A more in-depth discussion of these guidelines and the ethics of image manipulation was published in a feature article in the NIH Catalyst in May 2004 entitled “What’s in a Picture? The Temptation of Image Manipulation.” The article was reprinted in JCB in July 2004.

Data on data manipulation

At the time it instituted the image-screening program, JCB was unique in applying a systematic approach to detecting data manipulation in manuscripts accepted for publication. This approach provided the first hard data on the frequency and severity of data manipulation in biomedical research publications. The editors of JCB have revoked the acceptance of ∼1% of papers that passed peer review because they either detected image manipulation that affected the interpretation of the data or the authors were unable to produce original data images for analysis. Acceptance is revoked if any conclusion in a paper is called into question by the manipulation.

These numbers were first made public in November 2004 at the Research Conference on Research Integrity organized by the Office of Research Integrity.

Publicity about image manipulation and image screening

The JCB image-screening program was publicized in an article in Nature in April 2005 entitled “Image Manipulation: CSI: Cell Biology”. On Christmas Day 2005, The New York Times published an article showing that image manipulation was part of the scientific fraud perpetrated by Hwang and colleagues. When it became apparent that the JCB screening program would have detected the image manipulation before publication, The New York Times highlighted JCB’s process on the cover page of its Science Times section on January 24, 2006. This raised awareness among the public and among other biomedical journals of the potential value of image screening by journal editors, including Harvard Focus Magazine (February 10, 2006), National Public Radio (March 13, 2006), Science (December 22, 2006), The New York Times (October 2, 2007), and The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 6, 2008).

Response of journal editors

Many journals have adopted JCB’s guidelines on image manipulation in their instructions to authors, but only a few are enforcing them with full screening of all images for evidence of manipulation.

Response of National Academy of Sciences (NAS)

In February 2006, the JCB editors voiced the need for community-sanctioned standards for maintaining data integrity in a letter to NAS President Ralph Cicerone. The letter, along with subsequent concerns about digital data raised by other scientific publishers, provided the impetus for a study by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (a joint unit of the NAS, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) to examine the issue of data integrity. The study was commissioned in May 2006.

Mike Rossner presented a talk to the committee at an open meeting in April 2007 in which he described the experience of JCB and the other Rockefeller University Press journals in handling image manipulation. He noted that it should be the responsibility of the research community to develop standards of data integrity, but JCB had taken on this role because no such standards existed when JCB first confronted the problem in 2002.

The committee released its report, entitled “Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age” in July 2009. The NAS announcement specifically cited JCB for its proactive steps in establishing specific guidelines for “acceptable and unacceptable ways to alter images.” The report approached the problem of data integrity from the perspective of both truth and accuracy in data acquisition and reporting and from the perspective of accessibility of data over time. It provided no specific standards for maintaining data integrity and no recommendations for enforcing those standards once established. The report reached the broad conclusion that “researchers themselves are responsible for ensuring the integrity of their research data.”

Technical innovations

The RGB standard

JCB was the first journal to adopt the RGB standard for reproduction of color images. To maximize the quality of color image reproduction, JCB declared in January 2004 that the online version of the journal is the “journal of record” and that images would be reproduced online using authors’ files in the same color scheme (red, green, blue) in which they are acquired by digital cameras and which is used to display them on a computer monitor.

Previously, authors were asked to convert their RGB files to the CMYK color scheme necessary for printing on paper, which results in a substantial loss of image luster. Those CMYK files were then converted back to RGB by the publisher to post online, resulting in a second round of alteration to the original colors. The advent of the RGB workflow allowed colors to be displayed in the online publication exactly as they appeared in the authors’ original files.

The JCB DataViewer

JCB launched the JCB DataViewer in 2008 as the first browser-based application for viewing original, multi-dimensional image data ( This application was built in conjunction with Glencoe Software using a data management engine based on the OMERO software developed by the Open Microscopy Environment. This application allowed JCB authors to present multidimensional image data as they were acquired, giving them the opportunity to share data that were not possible to share previously. The DataViewer was decommissioned in 2018 as the journal evolved to an all-encompassing archive policy towards original source data and as new data repositories that go beyond archiving data and allow investigators to make new connections between datasets, potentially driving discovery, emerged. JCB authors are encouraged to make available all datasets included in the manuscript from the date of online publication either in a publicly available database or as supplemental materials hosted on the journal website. We recommend that our authors store and share their data in appropriate publicly available databases based on data type and/or community standard. The archived datasets previously hosted on the JCB DataViewer are freely accessible on a dedicated BioStudies page, a repository maintained by EMBL-EBI, or on the Image Data Resource repository. 

Adapted from the Wikipedia entry for Journal of Cell Biology

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