Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

GUEST EDITORIAL
Year
: 2021  |  Volume : 69  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3--4

On credit and credibility: Guest authors, ghostwriters, and everyone else in between


Amod Gupta 
 Emeritus Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Amod Gupta
Emeritus Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh
India




How to cite this article:
Gupta A. On credit and credibility: Guest authors, ghostwriters, and everyone else in between.Indian J Ophthalmol 2021;69:3-4


How to cite this URL:
Gupta A. On credit and credibility: Guest authors, ghostwriters, and everyone else in between. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jan 24 ];69:3-4
Available from: https://www.ijo.in/text.asp?2021/69/1/3/303314


Full Text



On the pretext of transparency, fair comparison, and objectivity, promotion and selection committees over the world use the number of papers published, impact factor of the publishing journal, number of citations, and the H-index as key indicators of academic performance. All these are quantitative and thus easily measurable parameters. As the well-known adage goes, what gets measured gets done. For those aiming for junior faculty positions, the only measure available is the number of papers published. This because neither are their papers expected to generate a meaningful number of citations, generally speaking, nor are they expected to have a high H-index at the beginning of their academic career. I am a constant witness to a flurry of papers by prospective candidates, which can number from a few scores to more than a hundred, all published in an astonishingly short timeframe. How do they do it? The answer is simple. They do it by wrangling a coauthorship somewhere in the middle of the publication process, the relevance of their research domain notwithstanding. The case for promotions and tenured positions is no different. Many of them are gifted by kind-hearted and generous friends.

Despite laudable efforts since the 1980s by the International | Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to improve the credibility of academic research by increasing transparency, responsibility, and accountability, authors regularly admit to including honorary and ghost authors. This is true for nearly 21% of all papers published in high-impact medical journals.[1]

As one of the manifestations of the “publish or perish” paradigm, an increasing number of manuscripts now have multiple authors, in contrast to the case during the 1960s.[2] Almost 40% of the indexed papers during that period had a single author, a trend that seems to have disappeared almost completely over the next five decades.[2]

The authors whose work is included in this issue have gone to great lengths to remove ambiguities, if any, about who gets to be an author or a coauthor on their manuscripts.[3] However, challenges remain regarding how to evaluate the significance of the contributions of the primary authors and their coauthors. It is a common perception of the chairpersons of committees responsible for promotion and tenure that the authors whose names appear either first or last in the credit byline have contributed more significantly than those whose names appear somewhere in the middle.[2] It is also commonly believed that the first author has performed the work while the corresponding author, usually placed last in the byline, has conceptualized and supervised the work. Being a coauthor, that is, someone whose name appears in the middle of the credit byline is perceived poorly, and their contributions are often ignored.[2]

There is a perception that most of the research may be false because the majority of papers do not have enough power to address the question in the study.[4] Identifying statisticians, who fulfill all the authorship criteria, as coauthors may enhance the credibility of the research.[5],[6]

The world is moving towards a multidisciplinary and multicentric collaborative approach to research. In multicentric studies and trials that take place across national boundaries, there may be hundreds of participants, all of whom may not fulfill the ICMJE authorship criteria. Under such circumstances, the participants may coin a unique group name and identify a few members as constituting the writing committee, which can write “on behalf of” or “for” the entire group and also be responsible for the accuracy and transparency of the reported data and its interpretation.[7] The rest of the participants can be named alphabetically in an appendix to the paper.

It remains a significant challenge to put together a multidisciplinary team, as everyone in the team cannot be the first or last name in the byline, and almost all fear being in the middle, a position of no consequence. It would be unfair to shortchange the contributions of co-authors irrespective of their place in the byline as only together they can achieve the study objectives. This becomes a critical issue while evaluating the individual contributions to a paper with authors from disparate fields. To overcome this challenge, a few high-impact journals have started crediting more than one author as having “contributed equally to the work.”[7]

It must not be forgotten that academic physicians mainly work in three domains viz. the patient care, teaching, and research. There is a perception that research papers get undue importance over teaching and patient care. Currently, there is a move to discourage the use of journal metrics as a measure of the quality of research.[8] The need of the hour is to develop tools for qualitative assessment of all the three domains.

References

1Wislar JS, Flanagin A, Fontanrosa PB, DeAngelis CD. Honoray and ghost authorship in high impact biomedical journals: A cross sectional survey. BMJ 2011;343:d6128.
2Wren JD, Kozak KZ, Johnson KR, Deakyne SJ, Schilling LM, Dellavalle RP. The write position. A survey of perceived contributions to papers based on byline position and number of authors. EMBO Rep 2007;8:988-91.
3Ali MJ. No room for ambiguity: The concepts of appropriate and inappropriate authorship in scientific publications. Indian J Ophthalmol 2021;69:36-41.
4Ioannidis JPA. Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Med 2005;2:696-701.
5Parker RA, Berman NG. Criteria for authorship for statisticians in medical papers. Stat Med 1998;17:2289-99.
6Vonthein R, Bunce C, Epstein D, Donachie PHJ. The importance of acknowledging statisticians as named authors. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol 2020;258:1355-6.
7Flanagin A, Fontanarosa PB, DeAngelis CD. Authorship for research groups. JAMA 2002;288:3166-8.
8Raff JW. The San Francisco declaration on research assessment. Biology Open 2013;2:533-4.