To the Editor:
Authorship is the finest vehicle by which original work is disseminated, scholarly credit is established, scientific reputation is recognized, research funding is gained, and the toll road of academic promotion is paved.1 It is for these reasons the author byline is particularly treasured, and scholars (even esteemed academics) are often disinclined to reject gift and honorary authorship opportunities, as recently demonstrated by Uijtdehaage and colleagues.1 Moreover, with the rapid proliferation of research partnerships in health professions education and the increased average number of listed authors per article, authorship integrity in such partnerships continues to be an alarming concern.2 Specifically, two seriously escalating issues are brought into question: research accountability and proper specific credit assignment.
To guarantee accountability in research, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has expanded their criteria for authorship to include accountability for all aspects of the work.3 Nonetheless, numerous indexed journals that claim to uphold the ICMJE authorship policy have failed to update their own submission guidelines to cite this new criterion.
The first and last authors have traditionally been viewed as the ones whose contributions are most significant.4 Listing individuals elsewhere in the author byline, however, does not communicate their specific contributions. Thus, several journals now require public statement of the specific contributions of each author, albeit at varying levels of detail.
We call for a collective effort from authors, institutions, journals, and the scientific community to make further strides toward promoting authorship integrity in scientific publication. Authors ought to intrinsically uphold the integrity of scholarly publishing and sustain an “ends do not justify means” ethos in their scientific endeavors.2 Institutions should reinforce strict ICMJE authorship criteria in their institutional review board applications, and cultivate awareness about these criteria. To verify author identities, journals should require all authors (not just the corresponding author) to attest to research accountability, report their ORCID identifiers, and confirm authorship following manuscript submission and prior to initiating peer review. Additionally, journals should adopt a contributorship policy that is universally standardized (e.g., CRediT: https://casrai.org/credit) and should publicly publish the contributor roles along with the author metadata. Finally, the scientific community should endorse the above-mentioned recommendations in research environments and scientific meetings.
Ahmed Abu-Zaid, MBBS
Second-year biomedical sciences PhD student, College of Graduate Health Sciences, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and Department of Surgery, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee; firstname.lastname@example.org; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2286-2181.
Yassar Alamri, MBChB, PhD
Internal medicine resident, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand; ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2519-3593.
1. Uijtdehaage S, Mavis B, Durning SJ. Whose paper is it anyway? Authorship criteria according to established scholars in health professions education. Acad Med. 2018;93:1171–1175.
2. Abu-Zaid A, Alnajjar A, Anwer LA. Authorship disintegrity in research collaborations: Ends do not justify means in science. Med Educ Online. 2014;19:24930.
3. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. http://www.icmje.org/icmje-recommendations.pdf
. Updated December 2017. Accessed November 7, 2018.
4. Tscharntke T, Hochberg ME, Rand TA, Resh VH, Krauss J. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLoS Biol. 2007;5:e18.