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 Table of Contents  
PRACTICAL ADVICE PAPER
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 27  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 217-220

The fruits of authorship


1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Government Medical Sciences and Research Institute, Srinagar Garhwal, India
2 Department of Pharmacology, Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Government Medical Sciences and Research Institute, Srinagar Garhwal, India
3 Department of Microbiology and Pathology, Seema Dental College and Hospital, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
4 Lata Medical Research Foundation, Vasant Nagar, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication31-Oct-2014

Correspondence Address:
Deepak Juyal
Senior Demonstrator, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Government Medical Sciences and Research Institute, Srinagar Garhwal, Uttarakhand - 246 174
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.143777

  Abstract 

Scientific paper authorship is an important academic achievement for all research professionals. Being designated as an author of a paper has academic, research, social and financial implications. Signing of a manuscript as an author does confer credit but also transfers responsibility. While authors get credit for the published work, they must accept the public responsibility that goes with it. Over the past few years, there has been a rising trend in authorship abuses. The prevalent culture of "publish or perish" appears to be responsible for this. In an endeavor to ensure honest practice, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the Vancouver Group, developed the criteria for authorship and said that "all persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship and all those who qualify should be listed." However, authorship irregularities continue to exist and are a cause of concern. Budding authors should be enlightened about concurrent problems in authorship, during their formative years and encouraged toward fair practices in publications.

Keywords: Guest author, Ghost author, Medical Council of India, Scientific publication, Vancouver group


How to cite this article:
Juyal D, Thawani V, Thaledi S, Prakash A. The fruits of authorship. Educ Health 2014;27:217-20

How to cite this URL:
Juyal D, Thawani V, Thaledi S, Prakash A. The fruits of authorship. Educ Health [serial online] 2014 [cited 2019 Oct 16];27:217-20. Available from: http://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2014/27/2/217/143777


  Background Top


Scientific paper authorship is an important academic achievement for all research professionals. Being designated as an author of a paper has academic, research, social and financial implications. [1] In academic fields, job appointments can influence promotions, postings, salaries, fellowships and research project awards. Professionals with strong publication records are considered to be more competent than their lesser published colleagues. [2] This explains why many people go for the 'gift' authorship in manuscripts to which they have not contributed intellectually. The prevalent culture of "publish or perish" has been responsible for the abuse of authorship, which, in turn, devalues scientific publications.

Criteria for authorship

In the early 1980s, John Darsee dishonored the trust of readers and his co-authors by falsifying studies, many of which were subsequently retracted. [3] This exposed the potential for deceptive authorship and dilution of responsibility within multi-authored papers. In response to such scandals, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the Vancouver group, developed the criteria for authorship. [4] In an endeavor to ensure honest practice, [3],[5] it recommended that in order to qualify for authorship, one must fulfill three criteria: (a) Substantial contribution to conception and design, acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data; (b) drafting the article, and revising it critically for important intellectual content and (c) final approval of the version to be published. The ICMJE also put forth that all contributors who do not meet these criteria should be listed in acknowledgements. Merely being an administrative chair or supervisor, departmental head or director does not justify authorship. Similarly, copy-editing or checking for typographical errors does not warrant inclusion of a person's name in the byline.

Responsibilities of being an author

Signing of a manuscript as an author does confer credit but also transfers responsibility. While authors get credit for the published work, they must accept the public responsibility that goes with it, which includes defending their published work if the content is challenged by the readers. They must be prepared to ensure that the contents of publications are an accurate representation of the work undertaken.

Number and order of authors in a byline

There is no fixed number of authors to be listed and it depends on the category of the manuscript; however, it is hard to justify more than two authors for an editorial or commentary, or more than four authors for a case report. In general, up to six authors are acceptable for an original article but if more than 12 are included, then this certainly calls for justification. Big, multinational, multi-centered studies naturally have more authors, depending on the investigators at individual sites. Over the past few years, there has been a rising trend in multiple authorship. [Table 1] enumerates the possible reasons for this. Generally, it is in the lead author's interest to keep the number of authors small.
Table 1: Reasons for multiple authorship

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Disputes over who will or will not be a co-author in a manuscript are easier to negotiate than disputes over the order of names in the byline. The authorship and its order should be a joint decision of the whole research team and must be decided initially at the planning stage of the project. It is assumed that the first author is the most important one and should ideally be the intellectual progenitor of the work being reported on, including drafting of the manuscript.

In many studies, the first author is a junior-like graduate student, trainee or junior academician, who needs the publication for academic and professional advancement. The senior academician or supervisor may take up the position as second or last author. The other authors are generally listed in descending order of their contribution to work, and are believed to have contributed lesser, as the order progresses. The last position often denotes the senior member of the research team or a departmental head. One of the main reasons for conflicts over the order of names is that the controlling body of medical education in India, Medical Council of India (MCI), has stipulated that a publication will be counted for academic advancement or for promotion only if the person is a first, second or corresponding author. [6]

Another reason why the order of names can cause contention among authors is because most of the journals specify a limit on the number of authors cited per paper in the reference section. If the name is toward the end of the byline, there is greater likelihood that it will not appear when a paper is being cited in the bibliography of another paper. The uniform requirements for manuscripts of ICMJE instruct to list the first six authors, followed by et al. While most journals have adopted the same style, it may vary from journal to journal [Table 2]. Online search results also display the names of only the first three authors, followed by et al. for the remaining.
Table 2: Examples of number of authors permitted by Journals in a reference list

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Authors should be prepared to justify the number and order of authors, in which they are listed in a manuscript, and more so for multi-center studies. Journal editors do not wish to be involved in conflicts related to the credits for authorship. Any such disputes should be openly and amicably settled among the authors themselves. If an authorship dispute is brought to a journal editor's attention, it takes time to be resolved and that usually results in a delay in acceptance of a manuscript by the journal. Acceptances are withheld until the journal's editorial office is satisfied that all impending disagreements have been settled. Most of the journals therefore have adopted authorship policies and seek definitive contributions of every author at the time of a manuscript submission.

Types of unethical authorships

The changing norms of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and MCI, stipulate a minimal number of publications as a requirement for promotion of teachers of medicine. [6] Such regulations may lead to adoption of unfair means and abuse of authorship. [7] Existing authorship guidelines are designed to ensure that credit is given when due and not inappropriately. However authorship irregularities continue to exist and are a cause of concern.

Guest authorship

This, also known as gift, honorary or unjustified authorship, is widely present in many institutions and has grown in recent years. Gift authorship is defined as co-authorship awarded to a person who does not meet authorship criteria and has not contributed substantially to be able to take public responsibility for the work. [4] Junior researchers assign authorship to their institutional seniors whose name carries weight within the scientific community, in the hope that this will increase the likelihood of the manuscript being accepted for publication. [8] Sometimes, a colleague is added as a co-author on an in-return basis, under the arrangement that he/she will do the same for you regardless of your contribution to his/her research, and thus increase your publication list.

Pressured authorship

This is a variation of guest authorship, where junior researchers often feel pressured to accept or assign authorship to their senior co-workers who have substantial power over their future career. While they are senior figures, often the department head or project supervisor do not fulfill the authorship criteria, but are included because of influential stature.

Ghost authorship

Ghost authorship is almost the reverse of guest authorship and the phrase can be used in two ways. A ghost author is a professional writer, often paid by commercial sponsors, who has drafted the manuscript but who neither is named as author nor his/her role in drafting the manuscript is acknowledged. [9] Such writers rarely meet ICMJE criteria, since they are not involved in study design, collection or interpretation of data. Yet, it is important to acknowledge these authors, since their involvement may represent a potential conflict of interest.

The term is also used for persons who made a significant contribution to the research, and fulfill the ICMJE criteria but are not listed as authors. The ICMJE clearly condemns such practice and stipulates that "all persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship and all those who qualify should be listed." The European Medical Writers Association has published guidelines to ensure that professional medical writers carry out their role responsibly and ethically. [10]

Divided and duplicate publication

The practice of divided publication is common. It is also known as salami publication - the term adopted from slicing a big chunk of meat into slices. The data or findings from a single study are fragmented and then published as several short papers, when it probably could have been published as one single, larger manuscript. The reasons for such indulgence may be imposing rising costs of operation being charged by journals to authors as page charges, authors getting more in number of publications from the same work, and smaller manuscripts being processed faster for publication. This style of reporting overburdens the scientific publishers in that it adds to the time and expense on peer review, press charges and the costs of multiple indexing and abstracting. [11]

When the same content is republished in successive papers, it is called duplicate. An acceptable form of duplicate publication may be for addressing a variety of audiences; for example, a paper being republished in a second journal because the one in which it was originally published is not available in the country of its republication. But in all cases, duplicate publication requires written permission from the initial journal editorial office because of copyright issues. However, both practices of divided and duplicate publication are unethical and considered as serious misconduct. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has clear guidelines on this issue. [12]


  Discussion Top


Though the criteria for authorship are defined, the current definitions are surely not working as is evident from the number of contemporary authorship abuses. The fact that "everybody does it" does not justify following unethical practices. Ensuring ethical authorship is an important issue for authors, academic/research institutions and scientific journals alike. Transparency in authorship is essential for maintaining integrity and accountability in scientific publication, thus retaining public confidence in medical research and writing.

Changing the authorship guidelines cannot be the solution, as authorship misconduct does not occur due to unpopularity or nonawareness. The main problem is the existing academic system that evaluates the merit of researchers by number of accredited publications. [8] Such an appraisal approach exerts pressure to publish and can drive authors to follow unfair means. To solve this problem, a revision of such systems is required; and the onus is on academic institutions. [13]

Readers have a right to expect authors to be able to vouch for their published work. There are other ways to acknowledge overlooked but vital contributors. It has been suggested that the group of persons who made contributions to a manuscript but are not justified for authorship credit may be listed under categories such as 'clinical investigators' or 'participating investigators' and their roles specified as: "Served as scientific advisors", "collected data" or "provided and cared for study patients". [4] Budding authors should be enlightened about concurrent problems in authorship during their formative years, and encouraged towards fair practices in publications. This can be done by Continuing Medical Education (CME) activities or through regular notification by employers even in the form of warnings. [14]

In summary, scientific writers must remember that being ethical in authorship is the best policy. Authors should comply with the existing guidelines and keep in mind that signing as a co-author is in itself a responsibility. Giving the credit of authorship to those who cannot defend the published work is not in the interest of genuine authors from the byline. Fairness in writing influences the image of researchers and earns respect and credibility for their work. Let's keep it decent as the sweet fruits of authorship can otherwise turn sour.

 
  References Top

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Smith J. Gift authorship: A poisoned chalice? BMJ 1994;309:1456-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
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International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication. Available from: http://www.icmje.org. [Last accessed on 2011 Apr 30].  Back to cited text no. 4
    
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Kassirer JP, Angell M. On authorship and acknowledgments. N Engl J Med 1991;325:1510-2.  Back to cited text no. 5
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Medical Council of India, New Delhi. Minimum Qualification for Teachers in Medical Institutions (Amendment) Regulations, 2009. Available from: http://www.mciindia.org/tools/announcement/Revised_GME_2012.pdf. [Last accessed on 2012 Dec 18].  Back to cited text no. 6
    
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Sharma BB, Singh V. Ethics in writing: Learning to stay away from plagiarism and scientific misconduct. Lung India 2011;28:148-50.  Back to cited text no. 7
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Bhopal R, Rankin J, McColl E, Thomas L, Kaner E, Stacy R, et al. The vexed question of authorship: Views of researchers in a British medical faculty. BMJ 1997;314:1009-12.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
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Rennie D, Yank V, Emanuel L. When authorship fails.A proposal to make contributors accountable. JAMA 1997;278:579-85.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
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Jacobs A, Wager E. European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) guidelines on the role of medical writers in developing peer-reviewed publications. Curr Med Res Opin 2005;21:317-22.  Back to cited text no. 10
    
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Huth EJ. Irresponsible authorship and wasteful publication. Ann Intern Med 1986;104:257-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
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Committee on Publication Ethics: The COPE report 1999. Guidelines on good publication practice. Occup Environ Med 2000;57:506-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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