When we think of medical and research ethics, the issues we usually think about are human subjects, misconduct and informed consent. Authorship is another issue in research ethics that does not get immediate publicity but can be highly controversial. “In science, an author is someone who creates a scientific text, such as an article published in a journal, a poster presented at a meeting, a chapter in a book, or a monograph.
” (Shamoo & Resnik, 2015, p. 98). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors bases authorship within certain standards. “Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, 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.
” (“ICMJE | Recommendations | Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors,” n.d.) The committee acknowledges these standards in a binary state. This means authors are only to be noted as authors, according to their standard, if they satisfy all of these requirements. In the scientific and research community, the issue of authorship can get entangled in a web of politics and semantic wrangling.
Certain areas of research literature regard credit for authorship as good as gold. “Most of the tangible rewards in academic science, such as tenure and promotion, contracts and grants, honors and prizes, and status and prestige are based on a person’s publication record.” (Shamoo & Resnik, 2015, p. 99). Quantity, in addition to the quality of their publication work, is the name of the game in some cases. It is often suggested that, the author like a guarantor, “..
.must take responsibility for at least one component of the work, should be able to identify who is responsible for each other component and should ideally be confident in their co-authors’ ability and integrity. (Parija & Mandal, 2013, p. 2).
Authors have a distinguished ethical responsibility to be held liable for the work involved in the project. In line with this, a suggestion one could make is to set a number and limit of the authors that can be credited on a research publication. This proposal may help to alleviate a few ethical issues and practices but could magnify some of the nuanced challenges in authorship. “Authorship is a highly sought attribute, as it is associated with recognition for creativity. In addition, it is associated with multiple benefits such as peer recognition, better evaluation and financial gains.” (Parija & Mandal, 2013, p. 2). An issue that comes up commonly in authorship is the idea of “gift authorship”.
This practice involves awarding authorship on a paper as a gift to a colleague. Take the case example of “gifting” or “honoring” a PhD mentor when a student or assistant publishes a paper. This situation assumes with it some sort of compensation, for example, favor in gaining positions within the institution or favor in funding. “In some regions of the world this is not only expected but also required – so many authors will not realise that it is considered unethical to include these people” (“Authorship issues – guest, gift or ghost,” n.
d.). The added pressure in the scientific community associated with research publications and journals opens up the possibility of such unethical practices. By imposing some sort of limit on the number of authors, it may lessen the room to maneuver in cases where one might be tempted to add a gift author to the study or publication. It might have the effect of high scrutiny when determining the author and prevent authors from freely exchanging authorship for compensation.
If colleagues or higher-ups were to follow this ethic principle, they could possibly see a gift authorship as not beneficial to the main contributor because of the limited room to bestow authorship. Another common ethical issue in authorship is “prestige authorship”. The probability of a paper being published may improve by listing a prominent individual as an author (Murphy, 2004, p. 3370). One can imagine how this could come up in situations where researchers are being pressured either internally or externally to publish their work. “It has sometimes happened that scientists use the names of others without their knowledge or consent.
” (Murphy, 2004, p. 3370). The proposal to have a limited number of authors allowed on a paper may not completely block this type of situation, but it can put some weight to each author listed. In turn, authors may be more hesitant to list honor authors for fear of not being able to prove the legitimacy of their listing. The idea of having limited slots to list authors in a study is not completely novel. “…
some journals require formal justification if the list of authors exceeds a certain number.” (Murphy, 2004, p. 3364). By pushing to remove the nonchalance in crediting authorship, the ethical challenges that arise from different situations in authorship may be neutralized to promote good practice. Despite the possible merit in establishing a limited number of authors to be credited in a publication, a mildly draconian limit may be hard to enforce and cause even more disputes in the community. For one, if a quantity limit was set, contributors may be eliminated from getting credit at all.
This is especially true for vulnerable candidates like young student researchers and contract researchers. Take for instance the contract researchers, described as, “…valued members of multidisciplinary research teams, they do not enjoy the benefits afforded to both tenured staff and clinician researchers, in terms of advancement and career development. One of the most poignant complaints from contract researchers is that they carry out the work and yet do not receive the credit and recognition for their efforts in the form of authorship.” (Newman & Jones, 2006, p.
421). In this case, a limited number of authors would prevent someone who probably deserves authorship from receiving credit that they could really use to advance their standing. Also, because of the implications involved in authorship, it could make disputes even more heated as authors jockey for a position in a study publication with limited author slots. Kant “..
.held that ethical conduct consists in acting according to the motive of duty (duty for duty’s sake) rather than self-interest or some other motive.” (Resnik, 2012). If held to this standard authors would use moral judgment to not use others just as a means. Authors would not give honor authorship or the like in the name of duty. Rosamond Rhodes of Mount Sinai, has a phrase that can be applied to many issues in medical ethics: “seek trust and deserve it.” (Rhodes, 2001, p.
493). In terms of authorship, one could surmise how trust is a key factor in the ethical challenges that arise. Trustworthy practices are key to research and a fundamental pillar in authorship issues. One must be held accountable for the work he does and signs off on. By seeking trust, this puts the researcher in a more ethically stable state. With proper parameters and following of guidelines (I.e.
the ICMJE) and possibly “…
with careful discussions, explicit lab guidelines and a good understanding of authorship practices in one’s field.” (Dance, 2012, p. 591), the unethical situations involving authorship can be avoided. In recent times, studies have grown larger and larger. One 2015 physics paper boasts over 5,000 credited authors (“CMS observation of the rare decay B s 0 ? ? + ? ? with the LHC Run I data,” 2015, p. xx).
Couple this with the financial and professional impact that authorship carries and the issues that stem from authorship ethics becomes pretty evident. Setting a limit for the number of authors could alleviate gift or prestige authorship but may also undermine the art of crediting contributors in a proper fashion. Authorship is not a standalone issue as it can lead to other dilemmas like plaigarism (Shamoo & Resnik, 2015, p. 105). As is the case, each potential author must examine their own scientific integrity and morality when it comes to dilemmas in authorship.