Authorship ethics

Hyndsight

With the constant pressure on academics to publish research papers, there is a temptation for research groups to include “coauthors” who have not really made any contribution to the manuscript. This seems more prevalent in some fields (e.g., the health sciences) than others.

Occasionally, I am asked to add an author to a paper that has already been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Forecasting. I am very reluctant to do this as it is hard to imagine how someone could be left off a paper while it goes through several revisions, only to be remembered after the paper is accepted. It looks like a last ditch attempt to get someone a publication rather than a genuine research contribution.

Most universities now have an authorship policy. The authorship policy at Monash University includes the following statements.

Attribution of authorship

… in all cases authorship must be based on making a substantial intellectual contribution to the work described and taking sole or joint responsibility for that contribution or, where appropriate, the work as a whole. Accordingly, authorship must be based upon a substantial contribution and responsibility for at least one, and usually more than one, of the following activities:

  • Conception and design of the project;
  • Analysis and interpretation of research data;
  • Drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the interpretation.

Unacceptable inclusions of authorship

The following activities do not by themselves constitute a claim to authorship without substantial intellectual contribution to the work:

  • Being head of department, holding other positions of authority, or personal friendship with the authors;
  • Providing a routine technical contribution;
  • Providing routine assistance in some aspects of the project;
  • Acquisition of funding;
  • General supervision of the research team;
  • Providing data that has already been published or materials obtained from third parties (including the routine collation and provision of research source material).

Acknowledgement of contributors

All those who have otherwise contributed to the research (see authorship attribution criteria above), such as research assistants, technical writers, and research degree students have the right to be properly acknowledged.

I think all researchers need to be careful to abide by rules such as these, not only because it is the right and ethical thing to do, but also because the notion of research authorship will be greatly devalued if we don’t.

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