The role of the lead author

Case number: 

Case text (Anonymised)

An author on a "perspective/consensus" type paper continues to provide new editorial as well as substantial content comments on consecutive versions of a paper, and currently disagrees with the content of the final version of the paper. The other eight authors have approved the final version of the paper prepared and circulated by the lead author. At this stage, the lead author sees no rationale for making further content changes and hence intends to resolve the situation himself by suggesting to any authors who do not agree with him that they are removed from the authorship list and acknowledged for any key contributions (as appropriate).

Question(s) for the COPE Forum

• Is the suggested handling by the lead author appropriate? Are there are other solutions available/preferable?
• Is it appropriate for a lead author to address an issue with the authors individually, initially face-to-face, and then inform/involve all of the authors in a second step for them to make a consensus decision?
• What is the Forum’s advice on the role and responsibilities of a lead author more generally? Is there any available guidance on this?


The Forum agreed this is an authorship issue and relates to authorship practices. The "lead" author can have different meanings in different disciplines. There is no accepted general opinion on this issue—it can vary by convention and discipline. The lead author can be the first or last author, or the most senior author.

Editors would not normally become involved with these types of cases—editors usually insist that authors resolve any authorship issues before submission.

Ideally, all authors should agree—consensus should be reached. If the direction of a paper changes, all authors need to agree to the changes in writing. One solution is to ask each author to specify their contribution. CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) could be useful here. If the authors have made valid contributions to the paper, then the lead author cannot remove them from the paper.

The presenter updated the Forum that the case was resolved by formal discussion with all of the authors on a conference call. 

COPE resources:

What constitutes authorship discussion document

How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers

Case Closed