Ghost and Honorary authors at the Peer Review Congress
One of the most discussed papers at last week’s Peer Review Congress in Vancouver (the whole programme is well worth a look) was one presented by JAMA editors entitled Prevalence of Honorary and Ghost Authorship in 6 General Medical Journals, 2009 . They had surveyed, anonymously, corresponding authors of 900 papers published in six medical journals and asked them whether there were any ghost authors or honorary (gift) authors on the published papers. 630 authors replied and in the abstract the JAMA editors reported that “ Honorary authors were reported for 31% of original research reports, 24% of reviews, and 22% of editorials. Ghosts were more prevalent in research articles (12%) vs reviews (6%) and editorials (5%)” Troublingly, “no significant differences were found between journals requiring author contribution disclosures and those that do not.”
The questionnaire that the JAMA editors used is not yet available and one of the journals represented in the survey, the NEJM, expressed some scepticism of the results. Obviously, it will be important to see the full results and the exact questions used but there is no doubt that at the very least this research raises substantial questions over how seriously authors are currently taking the concept of authorship – whether it be allowing ghost authors to have a substantial part in the writing of the paper, or giving honorary authorship to those who don’t really deserve it. And it seems that things have not got that much better compared to a previous survey, also by JAMA . The New York Times, which has a current interest in ghostwriting, reported on the paper.
Competing Interest: PLoS Medicine, the journal that I am Chief Editor at, was one of the journals surveyed.