Annual Meeting Reports

Point–Counterpoint: Should Authors or Journals Define Authorship?

Defining authorship continues to be a tugof-war between journals and authors.

It’s time, according to Patricia Baskin, for journal editors to step out of their comfort zone and take public responsibility for their role in content dissemination. Baskin noted journals have the right to set standards to avoid inappropriate types of authorship. Neurology provides specific guidelines on who qualifies for authorship.

But, from an author’s standpoint, Denis Baskin said authors find such guidelines restrictive. Authors generally feel that they should decide who can and cannot be listed as authors.

According to Patricia Baskin, journals expect each author to take public responsibility for a study so the burden does not rest solely on the corresponding or senior author. Accordingly, Neurology requires all authors to complete authorship and publication-agreement forms.

Denis Baskin emphasized authors share the journal community’s concerns with respect to accountability and appropriately recognizing author contributions. However, authors tend to “push back” when they believe journals are issuing a decree about who should and should not be included.

According to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), “An author must take responsibility for at least one component of the work, should be able to identify who is responsible for each component, and should ideally be confident in their coauthors’ ability and integrity.”

Neurology defines an author as a person who has made a substantive intellectual contribution to the submitted manuscript. Substantive contributions include one or more of the following:

  • Design or conceptualization of the study.
  • Analysis or interpretation of the data.
  • Drafting or revision of the manuscript for intellectual content.

According to Patricia Baskin, authors who do not meet any of the above criteria are relegated to the acknowledgments. Each person involved in a study must disclose his or her contribution, including writing of the first draft or responding substantively to reviewers’ comments. Conversely, Neurology does not consider contributing reagents, collecting data, or supervising experiments sufficient to qualify one for authorship. She defended the need for well-defined authorship criteria to achieve transparency.

Denis Baskin asserted, however, that journals fail to recognize that the breadth of contributions has expanded, especially in multidisciplinary studies. He said journals are out of step with their authorship policies because some studies are conducted in nonacademic settings. In the traditional model, principal investigators set goals, apply for grants, oversee writing, and determine authorship. Yet in nonacademic environments, companies investigating product efficacy assume the principal investigator’s role. Denis Baskin conceded the need to tighten authorship requirements for studies produced by companies to maintain credibility and transparency. But overall, he finds journal authorship requirements limiting and unrealistic.

The reality is that abuse of authorship persists and that is why Patricia Baskin encourages journals to adopt ICMJE’s contributorship model. Journals should make their authorship criteria rigorous and clear. They should also educate authors on submission requirements, which should be easily accessible and presented in clear, concise language.

Denis Baskin admitted most authors do not pay attention to journal requirements. Authors are not aware of the ICMJE requirements and, unfortunately, these are not part of young investigators’ training, he said.

Another challenge for journals is how to store and present authorship data on papers that have an extensive list of authors. Denis Baskin cited a 2004 Circulation article that had 2,458 authors. What did each author do? Should a journal limit the number of authors on a paper? What is the journal’s justification for limiting the number of authors? And there are practical considerations, such as collecting metadata on each author and verifying if any of the authors have a conflict of interest to declare. As more multidisciplinary studies are conducted, journals should be prepared to handle papers with large numbers of authors.

Authors insist determining authorship rests with them, as they have intimate knowledge of what each person contributed and to what extent the person’s contributions helped advance the study. Although Denis Baskin called on authors to be honest and forthcoming with authorship information, he asserted journals are not in a good position to police authorship.