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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 44  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 433-434

Authorship issues

Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Professor and Head, Department of Pharmacology, G.M.E.R.S. Medical College, Ahmedabad - 380060, India

Date of Web Publication3-Aug-2012

Correspondence Address:
Chetna Desai
Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Professor and Head, Department of Pharmacology, G.M.E.R.S. Medical College, Ahmedabad - 380060
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0253-7613.99294

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How to cite this article:
Desai C. Authorship issues. Indian J Pharmacol 2012;44:433-4

How to cite this URL:
Desai C. Authorship issues. Indian J Pharmacol [serial online] 2012 [cited 2023 Dec 5];44:433-4. Available from: https://www.ijp-online.com/text.asp?2012/44/4/433/99294

Research publications are a means to communicate a new research to the scientific community. These are important for an academic portfolio, often deciding a coveted promotion or appointment, research funding or a fellowship, or even a "Chair" for the stakeholders! Authors are key to any publication and selecting them is a critical step. Authorship disputes account for 2% to 11% of all disagreements in the scientific community. [1] Most issues arise in case of multiple authors (defined as more than 2 authors per article). The number of authors per article may vary from 1 to many, it is most often the latter. A randomly selected issue of American Journal of Roentgenology, for example had 7 or more authors in 38% of the manuscripts. [2] Apart from the fact that most research projects are a team work, larger departments, multidisciplinary or interdepartmental research also contribute to multiple authorship. Culture may also play a role, as for example in Japan (and I suspect in India too) journals have been known to promote multiple authors per article. [3] The issues range from who should be included in a publication, the sequence of authors and the maximum number that may be included. Requests for addition of authors after the manuscript is submitted or in the later stages of peer review or publication are not uncommon. These issues mostly go unnoticed in the euphoria of a researcher's work seeing the light of the day in the form of a publication. Attention is drawn to misconduct in the event of a formal complaint lodged with the Editorial Board by an affected researcher (who may have been excluded willfully or due to ignorance). It also arises when the responsibilities of the authors are put to test when a scientific misconduct is detected. For example, when plagiarism or similar scientific misconduct is detected, 1 or more co-authors may declare that they had no personal involvement with the paper. An insight into the guidelines for attributing authorship in a scientific publication might help us understand the types and reasons behind the "authorship abuse." Way back in 1985, a 13-member International Committee of Medical Journal of Editors (ICMJE) developed the "Uniform Requirements for Manuscript Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publications." The guidelines have been periodically updated. The guidelines adopted by over 500 journals worldwide attempt to balance the credit offered to the authors for "important new contributions to Science" with an assumption of responsibility for the published work. [4] The guidelines state that an "author" is generally considered to be someone who has made substantive intellectual contribution to a published study. An author must take responsibility for at least 1 component of the work, should be able to identify who is responsible for each of the other components, and should ideally be confident in the ability and integrity of the co-authors. The guidelines clearly state the criteria for authorship in a publication and distinguish authorship from other contributions. These include:

1. Substantial contributions to conception, design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data.

2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content.

3. Final approval of the version to be published.

Anyone listed as an author should fulfill all the above criteria. The guidelines are specific. For example they clearly state that acquisition of funding, collection of data or general supervision of the research group alone does not qualify for an authorship. Further to it, all those who qualify should be included and all those who are listed for authorship should qualify as one. Each author should have participated significantly in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content. A mandatory copyright transfer agreement signed by all authors submitted along with the manuscript documents the fact that the authors who sign this document have provided a substantial contribution to the article and assume responsibility for its contents. However these guidelines though explicit, are subject to vague misinterpretation by researchers who wish to be included in the authors' list, either willfully or out of ignorance. A recent spurt in "publish or perish" mentality and a rush to increase the number of publication in a resume has led to a new culture of "authorship abuse." While the onus of deciding the authorship rests on the researchers, the editorial boards also have the responsibility in minimizing this abuse to the extent possible. Authorship guidelines reviewed by Elizabeth Wager from 324 randomly selected journals from the World Association of Medical Editors and Medline showed that 41% of the journals provided no guidelines for authors, 29% listed the ICMJE guidelines, 14% asked the authors to approve the manuscript while only 9% required that each author describe his or her specific contributions. [5] Most journals struggle with these issues and it would be in their interest too, to guide and educate the potential authors about these guidelines and also implement them meticulously.

Another contentious issue is the sequence of authorship in a publication. The position of "first author" is usually the most preferred by any researcher since most studies are referred and cited by the first author's name. Conventionally the student who does the major ground work is the first author while the advisor who plans and conceives the experiment is the last author. The other researchers in the team appear in the middle of the author list. Opinions on this differ. These issues become pertinent as the number of authors per article increases. Considerable confusion exists about the order of authorship. Journal policies vary widely on this issue. Some list senior authors to students, others list the authors based on who did the most work and still others list the order specified in the study protocol. Some authors have developed Likert-like scales to assess the contributions made by each author, to decide the order. Despite all these variations, a study of the articles published in Lancet showed that the number of contributions made by the first author was significantly greater than those made by other contributors. [6] Contrary to these findings, Shapiro et al.[7] found that the order listed in 10 leading scientific journals was inconsistent with the contributions of the authors. The responsibility of these decisions ultimately rests with the researchers themselves; and should be a joint predetermined decision of the team, with appropriate justification in case of any disputes that may arise. A justification of the order of authors may be sought at the time of submission of the manuscript, but this is seldom done by most journals. A suggested way to offset this contentious issue is to provide equal value or credit to each author, regardless of the order. This suggestion however finds dual opinions, some in favor and others against, for obvious reasons.

Another authorship issue has arisen in the recent years owing to substantial increase in the collaborative, multi-centric trials. Usually a group attribution in such cases recognizes the complex nature of such research. The research group in such cases comprises a large number of researchers, where the conventional authorship criteria do not apply. Various approaches for attributing authorship to multisite research include, listing the names of the research team in the byline, listing the names of the individuals who meet the ICJME criteria for authorship in the byline with a statement that the authors are writing for the group or listing the name of the research group as the author. Despite these and other guidelines, authorship battles, inadequate or inappropriate attribution of credit, and an implicit control of the industry (in industry-sponsored research) are witnessed, indicating that more concerted efforts are needed to thwart and address these issues.
"Honorary authors," Ghost authors," "Gift authors" and "Guest authors" are other sophisticated and "accepted" examples of authorship abuse. These are obvious attempts to include those "who need to be included" for various reasons at their best and misattribution and fraudulent practices at their worst. Guest authorship, i.e., a practice of inviting those whose contributions have been trivial, has been observed in 16%-33% of articles. [8] These are mostly obligatory in nature. Ghost authorship is a practice of failure to name as an author an individual who has made substantial contribution in the research due to various reasons like the researcher "not working in the institution anymore," "does not need this publication," "just helped in collection of data" to "exceeded the limit of authors allowed." This practice has been known to occur in 9%-13% of articles [9] and junior researchers are victims of it mostly.

So how does one (read "editorial board") deal with these disputes? Using the age old adage "prevention is better than cure," certain steps have been suggested to reduce authorship disputes. These include acknowledgement of those who played an important role in the research but do not qualify for authorship. Yet another practice of contributorship involves no ranking of authors. The authors are listed in the byline and the contribution of each author is mentioned. Similarly group authorship is recommended in multi-centric research. However these practices, though adopted by certain journals, are not very popular since they seem to undermine the importance of authorship.

A formal redressal of authorship issues is difficult because of the very reason of their genesis. Usually a confrontation by the junior researcher with a senior one is avoided. An ombudsman may serve as an informal, confidential channel in such cases. Most authorship disputes arise out of ignorance as is evidenced in a survey of 450 authors, which showed that only 64% fulfilled the criteria for authorship while 60% respondents were not familiar with the criteria. [10] Hence, journals on their part need to lay down, promote and publish the guidelines clearly, check them for compliance and also deal with the disputes in a resolute manner. But authors also need to remember that ignorance is not an excuse for misconduct!

Authorship is not just a list of names. It is a mechanism to establish credit, integrity, accountability and responsibility in research. It ought to be free from fraud, errors, misinterpretation, wrongful inclusions and exclusions. It should include the necessary protocol and documentation that lend credibility and sanctity to the process of publication. In this era of intense competition, where an authorship is a gateway to promotions and other academic and professional incentives, it becomes all the more important to preserve the sanctity of this process. The responsibility lies equally on the researcher as well as the journal. Authorship should be a well-informed, predetermined decision by the researcher based on an adequate understanding and synthesis of the guidelines. It also tests or questions our professional integrity. Let us not fail this test!

 ╗ References Top

1.Benson K. Science and single author. Historical reflections on the problem of authorship. Cancer Bull 1991;43:324-31.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Berquist TH. Authorship Creep: Do we need a new process? AJR Am J Roentgenol 2009;193:599-600.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Retters MD, Elwyn TS. Assessment of authorship depends on culture. BMJ 1997;315:747.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Davidoff F. Who's the author? Problems withbiomedical authorship, and some possible solutions. Sci Editor 2000;23:111-9.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Wager E. Do medical journals provide clear and consistent guidelines about authorship? Med Gen Med 2007;9:16.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Yank V, Rennie D. Disclosure of researchercontributions: A study of original researcharticles in The Lancet. Ann Intern Med 1999;130:661-70.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Shapiro DW, Wenger NS, Shapiro MF. The contributions of authors to multi-authored research papers. JAMA 1994;271:438-42.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Angell M. Publish or perish. Ann Intern Med 1986;104:261-2.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Flanagin A, Carey LA, Philips SG, Phillips SG, Pace BP, Lundberg GD, et al. Prevalence of articles with honorary authors and ghost authors in peer reviewed journals. JAMA 1998;280:222-4.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Hoen WP, Welvoort HC, Overbeke JP. What are the factors determining authorship and the order of authors' names? JAMA 1980;280:217-8.  Back to cited text no. 10

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