Publication practices in multidisciplinary teams: a closer look at authorship assignment and ranking

This project led by Drs Zubin Master (PI) and Bryn Williams-Jones (co-Investigator) aims to better understand the norms, values, practices, and knowledge surrounding research integrity that contribute to authorship assignment and ranking in multi/interdisciplinary research groups, using public health researchers as a case study.

Authorship practices are often shaped by disciplinary culture and different disciplines vary in how they assign and rank authors. Despite the growth in multi/interdisciplinary health research programs (e.g., public health, bioethics, science and technology studies), very little work has focused on understanding authorship assignment and ranking in multi/interdisciplinary teams. If disciplinary cultures shape authorship practices, it is reasonable to suppose that there would be greater variation within multi/interdisciplinary teams. Using a bibliometric approach, we will identify authors who have published in public health journals in the last five years where the corresponding author is from a US or Canadian institution. Through purposive sampling, we will select participants for semi-structured interviews based on authorship practices, public health topic, location, and job title. Interviews will be performed with trainees (doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows) and junior and senior faculty until data saturation is obtained. We adopted a qualitative approach because it permits us to ask complex questions and allows interviewees to provide meaningful responses and insight into the reasons, motives and interests for particular authorship practices. Interview transcripts will be analyzed qualitatively through a modified grounded theory approach with constant comparison analysis to identify emerging themes.

The information gathered in this study will inform the development of guidance on authorship assignment and ranking in the context of research involving multidisciplinary teams. While the study is focusing on public health in particular, as a case study, the aim is to develop insights that will contribute to broader reflections on ethical authorship practices in general, and in the context of multi/interdisciplinary collaborations.