Attribution of credit and responsibility is central to the structure of science. Authorship is the most visible form of credit, but credit in publications is also given in the form of acknowledgments or appropriate reference citations. Because credit for publication is so important to disputes and allegations of research misconduct, it is worth considering why credit is more than a matter of personal gratification. The framework of science depends in part on the ability of institutions, policy makers, and the public to identify who is responsible for the work and its interpretation. Funding agencies consider past success, as evidenced by authorship, in the allocation of research grants. Research institutions often use authorship as evidence of creative contributions that warrant promotion. Scientists themselves may use credit for past work as a mechanism to attract both new trainees and willing collaborators. Finally, in an era of increasing emphasis on commercialization, authorship and credit help to define intellectual property rights. These, and other reasons, explain both scientists' desire for the credit of authors.
Authorship of an article, scholarly or scientific paper is limited to those who contributed meaningfully to its intellectual content. Authorship presents credit and has significant social, academic, and financial implications. Authorship also indicates accountability and responsibility for published work. The following recommendations are intended to safeguard that contributors who have made substantive contributions to an article or paper are credited as authors. It also protects that contributors are credited authors and understand their role in taking accountability and responsibility for what is published.
Every author should have contributed sufficiently to the published work to take public responsibility for the content. Co-authors should have been involved in the following:
- Writing a draft or revising it for proper content;
- Planning and adding contributing content (design, conduct, conception, interpretation, or analysis) of the work that led to a paper or construal of at least a portion of the results
- Given final approval of the version to be published. All authors (including co-authors) should review and approve a manuscript before it is sent for publication and examine their roles in the project.
The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following four criteria:
- Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- Final approval of the version to be published; AND
- Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
Designated authors should meet all four authorship criteria and be identified as authors.
Co-authors are responsible for considering their role and if that role has authorship attribution. Co-authors should review and approve a manuscript, at any rate, regarding their role in the project.
The use of “ghostwriters” is prohibited. All individuals who contributed significantly to significantly contributed any portion of the manuscript should be named as authors or acknowledged in the final publication.
Individuals who do not meet the requirements for authorship but who have provided a valuable contribution to the work should be acknowledged for their contributing role as appropriate to the publication.
It is best practice to discuss attribution early in developing any collaborative publication. For disputes that cannot be resolved harmoniously, individuals may seek guidance from the Dean of their school or the Office of Research Integrity.
Authorship might be justified by significant contributions to the ideas that preceded the work, the design of the studies, execution of the study, analysis of the data, or drafting the manuscript. Yet some questions about who deserves authorship are not easily answered. Can simply performing the data collection ever be enough to justify authorship? Should every author be able to defend all aspects of a manuscript, or only some? Should all authors bear the same responsibility if any part of a manuscript is later found to depend on falsified or fabricated data? Because of questions like these, it is useful to explicate some core principles as a basis approaching these issues.
The credit of authorship is accompanied by responsibility for the work being published. If the work is later found to be irresponsible or misrepresented, then all authors will have their name associated with it. Thus, all authors share responsibility for assuring that the studies and findings have been represented truthfully.
Authorship is an important sign to others in the scientific community. Institutions, funding agencies, and researchers assess scientists in light of their publications. Thus, to include someone among the list of authors for a publication is to send a message to those groups.
The criteria for authorship should apply equally to everyone involved in the work. If a researcher who gathered the raw data is included as an author, for instance, then all researchers who did comparable work should be included. Because authorship is a matter of public credit and responsibility, everyone who meets the accepted criteria for authorship should be included as authors.
Other than copyright law and federal definitions of research misconduct, nearly all aspects of authorship and publication are covered only by guidelines and unspoken custom. These are discussed further in the section on Publication.
- American Physical Society Guidlines for Professional Conduct
- Council of Science Editor's White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific Journal Publications. (2009 update)
- Horton R, Smith R (1996): Signing up for authorship. Lancet 347(9004):780.
- Ecological Society of America Code of Ethics
- International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (1997): Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals. JAMA3/4277:927-34
- Rennie D, Flanagin A, Yank V (2000): The contributions of authors. JAMA 284(1): 89-91.
- Smith R (1997): Authorship is dying: long live contributorship. British Medical Journal 315(7110): 696.
- Yank V, Rennie D (1999): Disclosure of researcher contributions: a study of original research articles in The Lancet. Annals of Internal Medicine 130(8): 661-70.