Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Unsanctioned authorship

I just sent this email to a scientific editors' email forum. If you are interested in commenting, please add your comments to this blog, and I can include them in a summary of the discussion:

I am interested in the phenomenon of authors adding co-authors to their papers, without first consulting the so-called co-authors. I get the feeling that this is something that is rare, but gradually increasing. I think that people might do it to make their papers look more authoritative, or to drive up citations by adding a highly-cited author. Clearly, it is bad practice and I was wondering what could be done to ensure that it does not happen.

My impression from the publishers is that their aim is to ensure that if it does happen, they are not culpable. They will have had the corresponding author sign a declaration that all of the authors are aware of the paper and are validly listed as co-authors. Yet this does not overcome the problem, it merely moves the liability for the problem, in my own view.

Is this something we should be worried about? Should we seek explicit acknowledgement from each author that they have indeed played an instrumental role in the production of the paper? Or is it sufficient to identify this as the sole responsibility of the corresponding author? I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this issue.


Ehsan said...

Worse than that is group of researchers that internally agree to publish their own paper with the others'name on it as co-authors. The result four a group of four is to write one paper a year and get your name on four papers and therefore having four publications.

What is your thought on this?

Will Hughes said...

Ehsan, you are right, this is a much worse practice. It is simply cheating. It is fairly easy to spot, too, so I don't know who these people think they are kidding. Recruitment panels and promotion panels can spot it a mile away. So the poor misguided people who do this will not profit by it for long. The evidence remains in the record for long after their misdemeanours, so it will come back to haunt them!

Ehsan said...

I remember I was second year Phd student when I spotted one of these smart-pants people. And I thought, if I could realize it, then it should be obvious for others.

However, I saw the progress of that particular person, just on the merits of his publications.

ps: I found your weblog via cnbr(thought you might want to know it).

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