Authorship in Scientific Literature

12 Apr

Assigning authorship to scientific literature can be a complicated task. There is no clearly written criteria that determines eligibility for authorship of a manuscript pending publication. However, there is a growing problem in the scientific community where increasing numbers of scientific literature of persons granted authorship that are unjustified.

Unethical practices in authorship include:

  • Pressured Authorship – a person who used their position or authority to pressure more junior persons to include them as an author.
  • Guest Authorship – inclusion of an individual as an author that does not warrant authorship.
  • Ghost Authorship – the failure to name an individual as an author when they have contributed substantially to the research or writing of the article.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) have established guidelines for authorship. To merit authorship, a person must be involved in the design of the study, or data collection/analysis, and approval of the final draft of the manuscript, and must assume accountability for the entire work included in the manuscript.

The benefits of authorship are numerous, including providing a personal sense of achievement, contribution to the progress of science, evidence of an individual’s intellectual efforts, and contribute to a person’s professional reputation. In academia, having authorship can lead to higher academia appointments, promotions and gain research funding.

However, unfair advantages are not the only concern of unethical authorship practices. The responsibility of the integrity of the published work is diffused when multiple authors are present on a publication. Often times, unethical authorship practices result in authors that had not been able to check the work that had been undertaken and at times have not been able to read the pre-published manuscript.

“Unethical authorship practices should be treated like research misconduct.” said Candice Brown a research scientist in West Virginia University. Unethical authorship practices entails deception of the research community and can potentially ruin the reputation of scientists if falsification or fabrication of research data is found.

Prior 1955, sole authorship was the predominant format in scientific literature. Since then, there has been a rise in multiple authorship publications. Although, there has been a statistically significant increase in the number of multi-center investigations, the increase number of multiple authorship publications cannot be explained by increased collaboration between individuals and inter-institutional centers.

In a study by Epstein, analyzed the number of authors per publication between 1982 and 1992 and found that small group size and high quality science are characteristics of Nature and Cell publications. Whereas, no relationship was found in other journals that suggests a relationship between the number of authors per publication and more labor-intensive research and technological development.

Overall, unethical authorship practices will likely be targeted by future policies and regulations by both journals and institutional research integrity committees. The best practice to employ into any research documentation is accurate records of contributors’ involvement and roles in the work that will be published.

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