One of the most debated and controversial issues in Egypt is giving credit to whoever deserves it. We read news of actors/actresses fighting over whose name should be posted first on title credits of movies. Should the older more experienced actress have her name first or the new rising star?
Quarrels over scientific authorship credit is not any different. Senior faculty members supervising students’ work insist to have their names as first authors while students argue that they did the work and wrote up the paper and therefore deserved to be first authors.
In this blog, I will explain some of the definitions and types of authorship irregularities.
But firstly, let me start by defining who an author is. S/he is someone who ‘made substantial intellectual contribution to a published research’ (Bavdekar, 2012). Another definition, as proposed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), is ‘ for an individual to become an author s/he must fulfill the following criteria:
1- Contribute substantially to the idea and method of study or the collection of data or interpretations of results.
2- Write up the manuscript or revise it critically for intellectual content.
3- Give the final approval of the manuscript before submission for publication (Bennet & Taylor, 2003)’
Just like in Egypt, contentions over the order of author names occur in the western world academia.. It is assumed correctly that the first author is the one who contributes the most to the study’s idea, design, results and analysis of the data as well as the manuscript writing (please refer to the definition of an author). Second authors have contributed to most aspects of the study except the concept and methodology of the study. The last author does the least work in the study particularly in collecting the data. However, s/he usually provides resources to conduct the study. Middle writers, other than the second, contribute much less to the study in terms of idea, design, data collection and analysis. They are less likely to be involved in the writing of the manuscript as well.
In the next few paragraphs I will define some authorship irregularities and their effects as expressed in Bavdekar, 2012 and Bennet & Taylor, 2003 reports.
It is the inclusion of authors who do not contribute to the writing of the paper nor have seen the final version submitted for publication. The issue with guest authorship is, the writers are unable to defend the research to the public in cases of fraud. Honorary, gift and unjust authorship are synonyms the term guest authorship. A sub category of guest authors is pressurized authorship which is usually implied and therefore difficult to report.
Some of the reasons proposed for guest authorship are the pressure to publish and it is thought that incorporating famous names in the field may favor the chance of the work to be published. Other reason are, it is a mean of paying back favors and boosting partnership with other researchers. Interestingly in a study done by Bhopal et al., a third of the guest authors were not aware they were enlisted as writers.
This is the case when authors who have participated substantially to a publication do not have their name on the paper as writers. Sometimes companies resort to professional authors who write up a paper on certain products in order to publicize them. They, then, ask popular clinicians to submit the article for publication with their names as authors in return for a fee and to indicate that there is no conflict of interest.
Sometimes authors do not wish to have their names on publication if the research show unfavorable results of a company product. Because the author maybe labeled as being unfriendly to industry or it may compromise future funds for the author or his institution (Bennett & Taylor, 2003). The Council of Scientific Editors (CSE) gave permission to allow for anonymous authors if their lives or livelihoods are threatened (Bevdekar, 2012).
Some of the measures taken by academic journals to combat authorship irregularities include:
1- Authors have to declare their extent of contribution in the study conception, design, data collection and analysis and manuscript writing.
2-Instructions to author include criteria of authorship as defined by ICMJE and the journal policies towards authorship irregularities.
3- Allow only a predefined number of authors (for example only 6 authors) for each publication.
4- Authors must indicate any source of payment in return for conducting or writing the study.
5- Indicate if any of the authors are employed by a company and participated in designing or writing the study.
Authorship irregularities should be addressed in the Middle East countries. There is a lack of data as to the extent of such irregularities in medical institutes and research centers and therefore research is encouraged to explore the pervasiveness, if they exist, of these misdemeanors. In addition, institutions should have clear written and implemented policies regarding authorship credits which are communicated to researcher transparently.
To end this blog, a question arises, should RECs/IRBs be involved in combating authorship irregularities and other forms of scientific misconduct?
– Dianne M Bennett and David McD Taylor, 2003, Unethical practices in authorship of scientific papers, Emergency Medicine Journal, Volume 15, Issue 3, pages 263–270 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-2026.2003.00432.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
– Sandeep B. Bavdekar, 2012, Authorship Issues, Lung India, Volume 29, Issue 1, pages 76- 80, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276043/
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