You are here

Letter from the COPE Vice-Chair: May 2020

I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce myself to the broad readership of the Digest as the new Chair-elect of COPE, a position I will hold for a year before I become Chair of COPE. COPE is entering a critical phase in its life. The organisation has expanded rapidly, so we need to focus  on our strategic goals set out last year. This includes better communication with our members, an increase in the range of guidance we offer, expansion of membership in underrepresented areas (South America, India, and China), and a focus on embracing university members. With your support, and the diligent efforts of the COPE staff, I look forward to many exciting years ahead.

The focus of this month’s Digest is authorship. Criteria and guidelines for authorship across most specialties have a common set of minimal criteria: (1) substantial contribution to the work and (2) accountability for the work that was done and its presentation in a publication. Yet, despite this common understanding, authorship remains one of the most vexing issues in publications, where escalation can involve multiple individuals and institutions.

With the coronavirus still surging in some regions of the world and resurfacing in others, the preparation and submission of manuscripts for publication can be compromised by broken chains of communication and non-responsiveness of coauthors. In light of these challenges, the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals have proposed a modification of the ICMJE authorship criteria. This guidance is expected to be referenced only in limited circumstances and is not intended to override ICMJE criteria.

COPE published an Authorship discussion document in September last year, an update of “What constitutes authorship?”. Based on a review of Forum cases related to authorship, this document offers practical advice on addressing the most common issues around authorship. This is especially timely in light of the results from last year’s member survey and a recent study of the publishing ethics landscape for AHSS editors: both identified contribution and co-author claims as significant ethics issues. As with all of our discussion documents, we welcome feedback and comments to [email protected].

For those interested in understanding the behaviours of authors that most likely lead to disputes, take a look at Charon Pierson’s June 2019 presentation at the World Conference on Research Integrity. Charon presented an analysis of 134 authorship cases which found that some of the most prevalent behaviours included questionable changes to the author list after submission (27%); ghost, guest, or gift authorship (19%); and submission without the knowledge of one or more authors (19%), to name just a few.

Just a reminder that, as a COPE member, the Forum is a great way to share your thoughts and perspectives with fellow editors and publishers. The next Forum is on Tuesday June 2 and the discussion topic is “What peer review means in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Are there differences in gender and diversity issues in these disciplines in peer review from others?”. 

Stay healthy and stay safe.

COPE Vice-Chair Daniel Kulp



Read COPE's May Digest to read the latest authorship cases brought to the COPE Forum and discussed by members. Our latest Forum discussion topic is "What peer review means in the arts, humanities and social sciences" and we welcome comments on our website.With a roundup of recent publication ethics news around authorship, data sharing and COVID-19.

Read May Digest: Authorship