Authorship and Attribution: Wrongs, Rights and Rewards

Margaret McGovern MD, Ph.D.

Pearls of Wisdom

  1. If you did not document it, it did not happen (research and clinical work). Thus your personal integrity is on the line when you choose to or not to publish
  2. What is at stake if you do not publish? Publications are the currency of academia — thus publish or perish. They determine promotions and tenure.

MSSM Appointments & Promotions Faculty Handbook Associate Professor

"Scholarship should be evidenced by continued publication and presentation of clinical observations, reviews, analytical studies, authoritative textbooks, or unique clinical research and participation in clinical trials, and/or continued development of significant teaching materials that should include new curriculum, new educational programs, widely used textbooks, syllabi, computer programs, video tapes, or the development of new methods of teaching."

MSSM Appointments & Promotions Professor

"Scholarship should be evidenced by continued publication in highly recognized peer reviewed journals of clinical research, teaching research, analytical clinical studies, comprehensive reviews, reports of outcomes of innovative or new teaching methodology or curriculum development."

Authorship & Attribution

Editors of major journals have established the requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals as well as guidelines for peer review. These can be found in "Manuscript requirements: the advance from Vancouver", Huth E., Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981 Jan 282(6257)-55-6.

Criteria for Authorship Inclusion

Substantial intellectual contribution to the study. Accept public responsibility for the study. Contributions must be significant in each of three areas

  • conception and design of the study and/or analysis and/or interpretation of the results
  • writing of the manuscript and/or critical revision
  • final approval of the manuscript

Author Order

"Order of authorship should be a joint decision of the co-authors"

Officially, no particular significance is ascribed to the order in which authors are listed

Involvement that does not Qualify for Authorship

  • General supervision or instruction of the research group
  • Involvement limited to the acquisition of the funding
  • Involvement limited to data collection
  • Referral of patients to a study

However there are other dissenting views, including that of the editors of the British Medical Journal. There should be clarification on who contributed what and who is responsible for overall content. In this view contributors can include someone who suggested the idea and design for the study and those who have collected data.


Person who made contribution but does not fulfill authorship criteria

Author should obtain permission to include an acknowledgement

Authorship Ethics

What constitutes a REDUNDANT PUBLICATION? It does not include work presented at a meeting or published as an abstract.

It is a publication that overlaps substantially with one already published and must acknowledge the first paper in the second and its priority. The second paper must be for a different group of readers. Finally it must have approval from both journals. Thus, an ACCEPTABLE SECONDARY PUBLICATION reflects the data and interpretations of the first and a footnote in the second paper acknowledges the existence of the first.

It is essential to avoid a CONFLICT OF INTEREST. Authorship means both accountability and independence. A submitted manuscript is the intellectual property of the authors, not the study sponsor. This means that during negotiation of research contracts, you should encourage the use of the guidelines on publication ethics. Thus, contracts should allow the investigator to have a role in trial design, access to the raw data, responsibility for data analysis and interpretation and the right to publish.

Remember what is at stake if you do not (can not) publish!

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