Population recordings of calcium activity are a major source of insight into neural function. Large dataset sizes often require automated methods, but automation can introduce errors that are difficult to detect. Here we show that automatic time course estimation can sometimes lead to significant misattribution errors, in which fluorescence is ascribed to the wrong cell. Misattribution arises when the shapes of overlapping cells are imperfectly defined, or when entire cells or processes are not identified, and misattribution can even be produced by methods specifically designed to handle overlap. To diagnose this problem, we develop a transient-by-transient metric and a visualization tool that allow users to quickly assess the degree of misattribution in large populations. To filter out misattribution, we also design a robust estimator that explicitly accounts for contaminating signals in a generative model. Our methods can be combined with essentially any cell finding technique, empowering users to diagnose and correct at large scale a problem that has the potential to significantly alter scientific conclusions.
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