Annual Meeting Reports

The Road Less Traveled: Why Contributorship Is Worth the Walk

Roll the credits.

In the movies, that’s how we find out who did what. In scientific publishing, we look for contributorship or authorship to find the same information.

A panel examined contributorship at this spring’s annual meeting of CSE in Baltimore, MD.

The foundation for the discussion was a presentation by moderator Mary Scheetz on a study conducted as an outgrowth of the work by the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. Scheetz and her coauthors, Kristi Overgaard of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and Diane Scott-Lichter of the American Association for Cancer Research, undertook an investigation that had three objectives:

  • Examine the treatment of contributorship in the instructions to authors of the journals of CSE members.
  • Assess the degree to which contributorship has evolved since 1997.
  • Understand how journals address contributorship in their instructions to authors.

To be included, journals of CSE members had to: be published in English, be peer reviewed, have ISSNs assigned, and be published on paper (as opposed to being solely electronic). The authors developed a list of variables that covered a variety of topics concerning authorship and contributorship.

A total of 411 journals were analyzed. About one-third of them published the date of their author instructions. Most journals (84%) addressed authorship in the instructions to authors, and 292 journals defined authorship determination requirements. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship guidelines were cited by 205 journals. With regard to specific authorship criteria, 118 journals required approval of the final manuscript by all authors; 116 required authors to attest by signature that they met authorship criteria; and 46 journals required a guarantor to sign on behalf of all authors. Seventy-five journals limited authors to a specific number.

Contributorship was addressed in the instructions to authors by 69% of journals and in other areas (such as on submission forms) by 31% of journals. Contributorship was mentioned in 82 journals and the responsibilities of contributors defined by 53 of these; only 11 of 85 journals stated what would be done with the contributorship information provided. Acknowledgment was addressed by 256 journals, of which 99 required permission from those acknowledged.

Only 67 journals addressed professional writing assistance. Scientific or research integrity was mentioned by 103 journals.

The authors concluded although most CSE member journals provide author instructions, the treatment of contributorship is minimal and not uniform. Contributing roles generally are documented by lists provided and/or inviting authors to document their roles. Journals should consider implementing the contributorship model due to its transparent nature, thereby removing any confusion concerning an author’s role in the reported research.

Future research, the authors indicated, might include an examination of the relationship among contributorship and ethical issues and research misconduct found in journals; a survey of authors’ satisfaction with the contributorship model; or an examination of science publishing infrastructure to understand what is blocking the implementation of contributorship on a larger scale.

During the panel discussion, Filler said the American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics journals now require an author contribution section in the manuscript and have separated the copyright transfer from the disclosure statement. She reported the society leadership has received no objections from authors and has 100% compliance.

Long reported when The Plant Cell editor began to provide authors with the option to report contributorship, only about 6%–8% of authors took advantage of the opportunity. However, contributorship reporting soon will become mandatory.

The panel also asked and it was confirmed there was a predominance of biomedical journals in the sample reported in this session.

Marusic said the term “contributor” is used differently in nonbiomedical disciplines, which can be very confusing. She also stated that editors work on issues they cannot manage. For example, editors cannot resolve authorship disputes. The Croatian Medical Journal states that it follows ICMJE criteria, but it also asks people to tell the journal why they should be authors.

Session participants also discussed what is meant by “final” when journals state authors must approve the final version of a manuscript. Does “final” refer to the submitted version, the final version after revisions, the galleys, or the published version? Unless journals define “final,” authors cannot know what is meant.

Contributorship is confusing, all agreed. Journals can choose to name authors, contributors, and acknowledgements, or can choose to name contributors, listing all who had a role in the research in a transparent fashion.