The Indian education system is undergoing a plethora of changes in terms of curriculum, teaching–learning methods, introduction of research at undergraduate level, and importance of research and publication as an integral part of education. Over the past four decades, the number of publications in medical and allied subjects' journals has increased in many folds and with that the increase in multi-author publications.
There seems to be no consensus among the researchers' fraternity and individual governing bodies of different universities and countries regarding rules and regulations about author sequencing and its credits. Many Indian universities are upgrading their status by undertaking various accreditations and ranking. While undergoing these processes, many researchers are facing problems of authorship, credits, and author sequencing. Before we discuss further about this issue, let us be clear about three questions laid down by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).
- Why authorship matters?
- Who is an author?
- Nonauthor contributors.
For an academician and researchers, authorship is the most important tool to showcase his or her authenticity, credibility, and further academic progress, which could be linked to financial implications. An author is the one who takes full responsibility and accountability for the published work. The ICMJE has thus developed criteria for authorship that can be used by all journals, including those that distinguish authors from other contributors. The CMJE recommends that the authorship be based on the following four criteria:
- Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- Final approval of the version to be published; AND
- Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
For nonauthor contribution(non scientific personal), these are the people who do not contribute in the study per se, but contribute in the form of other administrative areas or general supervision of researchers group; an acknowledgment should be given at the end of the manuscript as “acknowledgment to contributors mentioning their precise role in the research.” These are the ones who do not fulfill the four-point criteria recommended by the ICMJE.
Even though we have guidelines about authorship, different journals adopt different rules while publishing the research.
Moreover, there is no common agreement among the reviewers about whom to give how much credit. Is it as per author sequencing, only first two authors, first and last authors, or all the contributors get equal credit?
Conventionally, the first author usually gets the most credit as a principal investigator, followed by the second and subsequent authors. Whereas many evaluators consider the first and last author contributions to be most, followed by others. It is also a common practice to credit the authors as per the sequence in publication.
In the revised point system, Dental Council of India (DCI) has splitted the components of Category I into two, i.e., Category 1 with 15 points and Category II with 10 points, and the components of Category II are shifted to Category III with 5 points. The following amendments were made. For any publication, except original research, the first author will be given 100% points, and the remaining five coauthors will be given 50% points. For original research, all authors up will be given equal points and up to a maximum of six authors shall be considered. The maximum of three publications will be considered for allotting points in Category III.
Many indexed journals have adopted the practice of asking for the contribution of authors while they consent to their contribution to the publication; whereas many journals have their own criteria to decide author sequencing and credits. However, this practice may not be a foolproof as with increasing numbers of publications of multi-author publications, ghost and honorary authors are also increasing. This is a grave ethical misconduct in scientific publication. Thus, there is an urgent need to suggest universally accepted author sequencing and the credits given to the authors by the reviewing committee.
Teja Tscharntke et al. discussed the various practices of publishing author sequencing and their credits.
The following approaches may be identified.
- The “sequence-determines-credit” approach. The sequence of authors should reflect the declining importance of their contribution. Authorship order only reflects relative contribution, whereas evaluation committees often need quantitative measures. They suggest that the first author should get credit for the whole impact (impact factor), the second author half, the third a third, and so forth, up to rank ten. When papers have more than 10 authors, the contribution of each author from the tenth position onward is then evaluated at just 5%
- The “equal contribution” norm. Authors use alphabetical sequence to acknowledge similar contributions or to avoid disharmony in collaborating groups. They suggested that the contribution of each author is valuated as an equal proportion (impact divided by the number of all authors, but a minimum of 5%).
- The “first-last-author-emphasis” norm. In many labs, the great importance of the last authorship is well established. They suggested that the first author should get credit for the whole impact, the last author half, and the credit of the other authors is the impact divided by the number of all authors.
- The “percent-contribution-indicated” approach. There is a trend to detail each author's contribution (following requests of several journals). This should also be used to establish the quantified credit.
Thus, looking at the different practices adopted, we as mature researchers, along with publication houses and reviewers should come together to come to a global consensus to decide the common method for author sequencing and the credits offered to them. It is the need of the hour where all the universities are competing at the global level to prove themselves as academically excellent universities through research and publications.
Thus, it is time that we should all agree on a common trend of author sequencing on which credits are decided by coming to a common agreement at a global level.
“To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.”… Mortimer J. Adler.
1. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Defining the role of Authors and Contributors. Available from: http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html
. [Last accessed on 2022 Oct 12]
2. Shamim T. Revised point system of the dental council of India for publications by faculty J Family Med Prim Care. 2021;10:578
3. Tscharntke T, Hochberg ME, Rand TA, Resh VH, Krauss J. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications PLoS Biol. 2007;5:e18