Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Guest Editorial

On credit and credibility

Guest authors, ghostwriters, and everyone else in between

Gupta, Amod

Author Information
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology: January 2021 - Volume 69 - Issue 1 - p 3-4
doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_2637_20
  • Open

On the pretext of transparency, fair comparison, and objectivity, promotion and selection committees over the world use the number of papers published, impact factor of the publishing journal, number of citations, and the H-index as key indicators of academic performance. All these are quantitative and thus easily measurable parameters. As the well-known adage goes, what gets measured gets done. For those aiming for junior faculty positions, the only measure available is the number of papers published. This because neither are their papers expected to generate a meaningful number of citations, generally speaking, nor are they expected to have a high H-index at the beginning of their academic career. I am a constant witness to a flurry of papers by prospective candidates, which can number from a few scores to more than a hundred, all published in an astonishingly short timeframe. How do they do it? The answer is simple. They do it by wrangling a coauthorship somewhere in the middle of the publication process, the relevance of their research domain notwithstanding. The case for promotions and tenured positions is no different. Many of them are gifted by kind-hearted and generous friends.

Despite laudable efforts since the 1980s by the International | Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to improve the credibility of academic research by increasing transparency, responsibility, and accountability, authors regularly admit to including honorary and ghost authors. This is true for nearly 21% of all papers published in high-impact medical journals.[1]

As one of the manifestations of the “publish or perish” paradigm, an increasing number of manuscripts now have multiple authors, in contrast to the case during the 1960s.[2] Almost 40% of the indexed papers during that period had a single author, a trend that seems to have disappeared almost completely over the next five decades.[2]

The authors whose work is included in this issue have gone to great lengths to remove ambiguities, if any, about who gets to be an author or a coauthor on their manuscripts.[3] However, challenges remain regarding how to evaluate the significance of the contributions of the primary authors and their coauthors. It is a common perception of the chairpersons of committees responsible for promotion and tenure that the authors whose names appear either first or last in the credit byline have contributed more significantly than those whose names appear somewhere in the middle.[2] It is also commonly believed that the first author has performed the work while the corresponding author, usually placed last in the byline, has conceptualized and supervised the work. Being a coauthor, that is, someone whose name appears in the middle of the credit byline is perceived poorly, and their contributions are often ignored.[2]

There is a perception that most of the research may be false because the majority of papers do not have enough power to address the question in the study.[4] Identifying statisticians, who fulfill all the authorship criteria, as coauthors may enhance the credibility of the research.[56]

The world is moving towards a multidisciplinary and multicentric collaborative approach to research. In multicentric studies and trials that take place across national boundaries, there may be hundreds of participants, all of whom may not fulfill the ICMJE authorship criteria. Under such circumstances, the participants may coin a unique group name and identify a few members as constituting the writing committee, which can write “on behalf of” or “for” the entire group and also be responsible for the accuracy and transparency of the reported data and its interpretation.[7] The rest of the participants can be named alphabetically in an appendix to the paper.

It remains a significant challenge to put together a multidisciplinary team, as everyone in the team cannot be the first or last name in the byline, and almost all fear being in the middle, a position of no consequence. It would be unfair to shortchange the contributions of co-authors irrespective of their place in the byline as only together they can achieve the study objectives. This becomes a critical issue while evaluating the individual contributions to a paper with authors from disparate fields. To overcome this challenge, a few high-impact journals have started crediting more than one author as having “contributed equally to the work.”[7]

It must not be forgotten that academic physicians mainly work in three domains viz. the patient care, teaching, and research. There is a perception that research papers get undue importance over teaching and patient care. Currently, there is a move to discourage the use of journal metrics as a measure of the quality of research.[8] The need of the hour is to develop tools for qualitative assessment of all the three domains.

About the author

Prof. Amod Gupta

Prof. Amod Gupta is a Professor Emeritus at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, India. Prof. Gupta served as the Head of the Department of Ophthalmology in PGIMER, Chandigarh for over 28 years until his superannuation in 2015. Prof. Gupta also served as the Dean of PGIMER at the time of his superannuation. Prof. Gupta has an illustrious career with numerous awards and recognitions at national and international level. A Padmashree awardee, Prof. Gupta is the architect of the modern Advanced Eye Center, Department of Ophthalmology at PGIMER which has made a global mark. He has received a number of awards and orations such as the Teacher of Teacher Award, Golden Apple Award, and State and National-level honors. With over 350 publications in peer-reviewed literature, he has been the pioneer of vitreous surgery in North India. Dr. Gupta has trained several ophthalmologists who have themselves become stalwarts in the field, nationally and internationally. With special interests in uvea and vitreoretinal surgery, he has contributed immensely in the understanding of tubercular uveitis, fungal endophthalmitis, and diabetic vitrectomy, apart from numerous other contributions in the field of vitreoretina and uveitis. Dr. Gupta is also a patron of the Uveitis Society of India (USI), and served as the President of the Society in the past.

1. Wislar JS, Flanagin A, Fontanrosa PB, DeAngelis CD. Honoray and ghost authorship in high impact biomedical journals: A cross sectional survey BMJ. 2011;343:d6128
2. Wren JD, Kozak KZ, Johnson KR, Deakyne SJ, Schilling LM, Dellavalle RP. The write position. A survey of perceived contributions to papers based on byline position and number of authors EMBO Rep. 2007;8:988–91
3. Ali MJ. No room for ambiguity: The concepts of appropriate and inappropriate authorship in scientific publications Indian J Ophthalmol. 2021;69:36–41
4. Ioannidis JPA. Why most published research findings are false PLoS Med. 2005;2:696–701
5. Parker RA, Berman NG. Criteria for authorship for statisticians in medical papers Stat Med. 1998;17:2289–99
6. Vonthein R, Bunce C, Epstein D, Donachie PHJ. The importance of acknowledging statisticians as named authors Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2020;258:1355–6
7. Flanagin A, Fontanarosa PB, DeAngelis CD. Authorship for research groups JAMA. 2002;288:3166–8
8. Raff JW. The San Francisco declaration on research assessment Biology Open. 2013;2:533–4
© 2021 Indian Journal of Ophthalmology | Published by Wolters Kluwer – Medknow