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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 53  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 223-224

ABC of authorship: Aims, banes and credits

P.D. Hinduja National Hospital & Medical Research Centre, Veer Savarkar Marg, Mahim, Mumbai 400 016, India

Correspondence Address:
Barun K Nayak
P.D. Hinduja National Hospital & Medical Research Centre, Veer Savarkar Marg, Mahim, Mumbai 400 016
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0301-4738.18902

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How to cite this article:
Nayak BK, Moreker S, Pawar D. ABC of authorship: Aims, banes and credits. Indian J Ophthalmol 2005;53:223-4

How to cite this URL:
Nayak BK, Moreker S, Pawar D. ABC of authorship: Aims, banes and credits. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2005 [cited 2022 Dec 6];53:223-4. Available from: https://www.ijo.in/text.asp?2005/53/4/223/18902

Changing times bring with them changes in various fields. Medical publications and authorship have not remained untouched. Publications have changed from a humble collection of simple manuscripts with anonymous authors into a well organised collection of reliable documents which has some standing as evidence in case of medical disputes.[1],[2] Such a biomedical publication is today the very foundation of "evidence based medicine" and relies solely upon the submission of research papers by various researchers, whose names appear as the authors.The importance of authorship is evident from what Fitzhugh Mullan[3] said
"One's written words become one's offspring. The stories and their message will live on as evidence of one's presence on the planet and engagement with life"

Authorship is very lucrative for obvious reasons. One's work, when published in a peer reviewed indexed journal, gets widespread acceptance and can be accessed easily as and when the reader feels the need. Writing an article in a peer reviewed indexed journal propels a practitioner beyond his immediate sphere of influence into the realms of expertise in the subject. It gives instant recognition in one's own specialty worldwide, apart from opening promotional avenues. A large number of articles or publications substantiate one's claim to halls of fame. However, as long as undue importance is given to the quantity of work rather than the quality of work, disputes of authorship will tend to crop up. The citation of one's work by other researchers in their manuscripts is now considered more important and speaks of quality. But it does not give an idea of the overall readership of the article by others, who do not write. Therefore it has been suggested that the number of times an article is read, e-mailed or printed by readers is to be given importance. The Indian Journal of Ophthalmology (IJO) website, (www.ijo.in) gives this information in its statistics section.

All said and done, however, the number of publications by one author still does matter, and this quest of humanity for immortality in words the casualty has been ethics. Our area of concern is the spiraling number of authors who seem to belaying claim to the final work done; not in the least because of, one understands, the benefits accrued to several souls from one publication. Given the amount of effort that seems to go into some studies, one may argue that these claims are justified. The key questions asked the world over in this regard are those concerning credits and responsibility. The cardinal concern is of giving credit where it is due and at the same time to protect and to be protected from any guilt arising from scientific misconduct by one or more of the authors.

There is no confusion about the authorship of a fiction writer who writes as the sole author, but the same is not true in the biomedical journal publication, wherein the trend towards multiple authors is more of a necessity. Biomedical research requires team work in the present era of specialisation and compartmentalisation. Everyone from the team cannot be listed as an author on the byline. However, deserving researchers must be granted authorship. The reader has the right to know the real persons who have worked for a particular publication so as to ascertain the authenticity of the work.

Ideally the sequence of the names of authors should be arranged in descending order in terms of their contribution. The international committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE, www.icmje.org) has formulated guidelines which recommend that the authorship should be awarded to anyone who fulfills these three criteria in relation to a research work

1.Must have worked for conception and design or acquisition and analysis of data.

2.Must have helped in drafting or critical revision of manuscript, and

3.Must have approved the final revision of manuscript to be published.

Therefore, anyone's contribution in bits and pieces does not justify being included as author. In brief, authorship has to be earned. Asking for disclosure of contribution by each author is not a common practice amongst journal editors. In case of multiple authors the order on the byline should be decided in the beginning of the project in consultation with all concerned. All others, who have helped and worked for the project, are acknowledged at the end of the article. However, this dichotomous system creates discontent amongst those who contributed significantly but could not meet all the three criteria laid down by ICMJE to be included as authors. Fotion and conrad[4] suggested a trichotomous system wherein those who were falling just short of meeting the authorship criteria of ICMJE can be listed alongside the authors in a second, separate category, under such a heading as "clinical investigator", "participating investigator"etc. The third category of "Acknowledgements" would be reserved for those whose contributions are limited or purely technical.

Kapoor[5] suggested "authors' contribution factor" (ACF), whereby a total ACF of 1 could be divided amongst all the authors. More the authors, less would be the ACF of each author.

In multiple authorship the problem of accountability can be solved by adopting the suggestion by Renne et al[6] to print the contribution by each author as declared by the authors. They also suggested having a "guarantor" who will take responsibility for the integrity of the work. This does not occupy much space in the journal and is not difficult to follow. However, it has not much affected the number of authors per article.[7]

Authorship is also associated with certain responsibilities. Sending repeated mails and the use of other such editor intimidating/pressurising techniques is now emerging. Ingelfinger Rule[8] mandates that biomedical journals do not accept for publication papers which have already been publicised elsewhere. Issues of author's misconduct are not unknown and have a lot of bearing on the authenticity as well as the credentials of any publication. Conflict of interest is widespread among the authors of published manuscripts and these authors are more likely to present only positive findings.[9] Most of us would be delighted if someone proposes to include our name as an author in his/her work. But seldom does one realise that accepting the offer means also being party to any misconduct like plagiarism which is increasingly becoming noticeable and has also now punishable. Therefore, it would be unwise to accept such offers unless one satisfies the requisite criteria. All authors are accountable for the content of the paper and should be able to defend the paper collectively in case of a challenge regarding a fraudulent act in the form of falsification, fabrication or plagiarism. Therefore, a written consent from all those who are listed as second or third category contributors is mandatory. This is also to tackle other issues faced by the editor with the likes of guest authors, gift authors and ghost authors. Guest authors are those who have neither worked for, nor have written the paper but are included in the authors list because of their expert standing which increases the likelihood of publication due to their presence. They are, at times, even offered money along with the authorship. Ghost authorship is failure to be named as an author who has contributed to the work substantially and fully satisfies the criteria for authorship as laid down by the ICMJE. To retain the credibility of papers, the names of such authors, generally employed by companies, are substituted to avoid issues of conflict of interest. Some ghost authors work on hire and are "voluntary ghost authors", whereas others may become "involuntary ghost authors" as their name is discarded without their agreement. This can also be termed as subtle plagiarism. Gift authors are those who have not contributed significantly but are included in the list due to their position or with the idea of getting some reciprocation in the future. Some other interesting terminologies[10] in this regard are - honorary authorship, pseudo- authorship, surprise authorship, polyauthorosis giftosa[5], etc.

Like other journals, the IJO makes it mandatory for all contributors to sign the copyright form, which also serves as consent. IJO is considering adopting the policy of trichotomous system so that the authors and others who have worked for the project get due credit- fair play for all concerned in biomedical research, and above all justice to the readers. But the emphasis should nevertheless be on articles of good quality which get quoted more often by other authors; and the aim should be to write articles that the readers would like to read, retain in print and probably e-mail to their colleagues.

The authors call upon the readers to help the IJO in its role as a misconduct watchdog.[11]

  References Top

Lipton JP, O'Connor M, Sales BD. Rethinking the admissibility of medical treatises as evidence. Am J Law Med 1991; 17:209-48.  Back to cited text no. 1
Price JM, Rosenberg ES. The war against junk science: the use of expert panels in complex medical-legal scientific litigation. Biomaterials 1998; 19:1425-32  Back to cited text no. 2
Mullan F. Me and the system: the personal essay and health policy. Health Aff (Millwood). 1999;18:118-24.   Back to cited text no. 3
Fotion N, Conrad C C. Authorship and other credits. Ann Intern Med 1984;100:592-4  Back to cited text no. 4
Kapoor VK. Polyauthoritis giftosa. Lancet 1995;346:1039  Back to cited text no. 5
Rennie D, Yank V, Emmanuel L. When authorship fails. A proposal to make contributors accountable. JAMA 1997;278:579-85  Back to cited text no. 6
Probyn LJ, Asch MR. The effect of changes in guidelines for authorship. Current Radiology publications. Radiology 2000;215:615-6  Back to cited text no. 7
Germenis AE. Beyond the Ingelfinger Rule: the intellectual property ethics after the end of biomedical journals' monopoly. Med Inform Internet Med 1999;24:165-70.  Back to cited text no. 8
Friedman LS, Richter ED. Relationship between conflicts of interest and research results. J Gen Intern Med 2004;19:51-6.   Back to cited text no. 9
Sahu DR, Abraham P. Authorship: rules, rights, responsibilities and recommendations. J Postgrad Med 2000;46:205-10  Back to cited text no. 10
Williams N. Editors call for misconduct watchdog. Science 1998;280:1685-6.  Back to cited text no. 11

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3 Author's misconduct inviting risk: Duplicate publication
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