Our company publishes clinical pathways.
They were initially authored by local experts, but have since been retrofitted with evidence, if possible. This was done by expert “evidologists”, not clinical experts; they were acknowledged solely by their company name (it was “out-sourced”). If the evidence did not fit, the pathway was discarded.
We undertake to review all of the pathways annually. However, the annual review process is often the first time a clinical expert is reviewing the pathway. As a result, their “suggested revisions” are extensive. We would like to make such people authors (if they agree), partly so we can collect and display their competing interests and partly so that they can get “credit” for their work. This means that each year there could be new authors (reviewers with useful comments).
My questions are:
• Should we make all reviewers authors, even if their report is pants?
• I suspect not, but can you think of a useful threshold as to when a reviewer has done enough to be an author?
• Year on year, we would have to check the “original” reviewers (ie, the first years') are still happy with the revised pathway, right?
• But what if there are authorship disputes? We would have to mediate them, right?
Does this approach to authorship make any sense at all?
The Forum advised against getting too bogged down with the terms “author” and “authorship”. These terms can be redundant in some forms of publication. Terms such as reviewer or contributor can be used and are just as valid. The Forum emphasised the importance of transparency about who writes what and when. Hence the Forum advised identifying an updated version of the pathways, with a list of those who contributed to it. This could be linked to previous versions, with a similar list of contributors, whether or not they are the same. Another suggestion was to ask the reviewers and the people who use the pathways what they want – do they want to be acknowledged? Do they want to see who has contributed what to each pathway?
We are grateful to the participants of the recent COPE Forum for helping us to understand how “authorship” can be dealt with in a non-traditional editorial model. Our thoughts continue to evolve on how we will handle this, but we are likely to list “authors” as a group, assuming that they have all participated under the aegis of one body or leader. Others who participate will be listed, and we will operate no minimum threshold for their involvement, although we will probably reserve the right to reject the offerings of those who have been pants. All “authors” will be called “contributors”, if we need a name for them at all, so as to avoid any conflict with the definition of authorship provided by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Taking such an approach will ensure that we are not only collecting the names of those who provide valuable contributions, but also ensure that we can make public any and all potential conflicts of interest so that the reader is fully aware of potential biases.