One of the main tasks of COPE’s education committee is to reduce unethical behaviour. This involves the rather bold step of defining when people have been behaving unethically, and then providing suggestions on how they can avoid doing so in the future. To this end we have written, and tested on a group of authors, a guide for young researchers on the area of authorship, which many people agree is one of the more confused areas. But writing a document is one thing; disseminating it is another. We would therefore welcome comments, particularly on how we can use this report to change behaviour, so that it becomes not just another discussion document, but a real catalyst for change.
In theory, authorship sounds straightforward, but in practice it often causes headaches. While preparing these guidelines, we heard about several cases. In one, a deserving junior researcher was omitted from the author list; in another a sponsoring company insisted on the inclusion of an opinion leader who had made virtually no contribution to a study. And the writer of a review article found her name replaced with that of her boss, because she was on maternity leave when the final version was submitted.
Listing the authors tells readers who did the work and should ensure that the right people get the credit, and take responsibility, for the research. Although journal editors do not always agree among themselves on what constitutes authorship, many of them subscribe to the guidance from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), also known as the Vancouver group.
This is an extract. Refer to the PDF for the full version.
Authorship discussion document
How to recognise potential authorship problems infographic
How to spot authorship problems infographic
Inconclusive institutional investigation into authorship dispute case discussion (March 2019), and the university perspective on the case (March 2019)