Kamran Abbasi
Editor in Chief, RSM Press
Research misconduct
Research fraud
Publication bias
Redundant publication
Hidden competing interests
Authorship disputes
Why not move to contributorship?
Have you ever been involved in
an authorship dispute?
ICMJE definition of authorship
The uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to
medical journals state that authorship credit should be based
only on substantial contribution to:
1. Conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis
and interpretation of data
2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important
intellectual content
3. And final approval of the version to be published
All these conditions must all be met. Participation solely in the
acquisition of funding or the collection of data does not justify
ICMJE guidance
• Developed in 1980s
• Updated intermittently since
• Authorship guidance adopted by over 600
biomedical journals
• Often unworkable
• ‘A self-appointed group of busybodies’
What is contributorship?
“Contributors should include all those who have
added usefully to the work. They might include
somebody who suggested the idea and design
for the study but did nothing further, or
somebody who collected many of the data but
was not concerned with design or analysis.
Rennie et al suggest that contributors should
agree on the relative size of their contributions
to decide on the order in which they will be
Richard Smith, BMJ Sep 1997 and Drummond Rennie et al, JAMA 1997
What is a guarantor?
“Guarantors," say Rennie et al, "are those people
who have contributed substantially, but who have
also made added efforts to ensure the integrity of
the entire project. They organise, oversee, and
double check and must be prepared to be
accountable for all parts of the completed
manuscript, before and after publication."
What is gift authorship?
• Allowing somebody joint or sole authorship of
an article when they have made little or no
contribution to the work. They may never have
seen it.
• Offered by the weak to the powerful
• A ploy to gain professional advantage
• Intellectually dishonest
• Sometimes called honorary authorship
“If she can’t be bothered to write it I
can’t be bothered to read it”
What is ghost authorship?
• Absence from the list of authors when you have
made a contribution to the work that either
qualifies you as an author, contributor, or
• Forced on the weak by the powerful
• A ploy to gain commercial advantage
• Intellectually dishonest
Honorary and ghost authorship in high
impact biomedical journals 1
• Cross sectional survey (2008 v 1996)
• Annals, JAMA, Nature Med, Lancet, NEJM, PLoS Med
• Self-reported compliance with ICMJE guidance
• 630/896 corresponding authors
• Online confidential questionnaire
Wislar J et al. BMJ 2011; 343 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d6128 (Published 25 October 2011
Honorary and ghost authorship in high
impact biomedical journals 2
Honorary and ghost authorship in high
impact biomedical journals 3
The Pearce affair: The cast
• Professor Geoffrey Chamberlain. President of
the RCOG, editor of the BJOG, professor of
obsterics at St George’s. Affectionately known
as “Bodger”
• Malcolm Pearce. Assistant editor of the BJOG,
senior lecturer at St George’s.
The Pearce affair: The papers
• Case report of embryo of ectopic pregnancy
reimplanted and successful pregnancy. Massive
media attention worldwide—a “true”
• A trial of treating recurrent miscarriage in
women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Nearly
200 women recruited.
• Both papers published in BJOG in August 1994.
The Pearce affair
• A whistleblower at the medical school reported
that the patient in the case report did not exist
• Ability to recruit so many women for the
polycystic ovary trial was also questioned
• Malcolm Pearce, author of both papers, was
fired by St George’s and reported to the GMC
The Pearce affair
• Chamberlain discovered after publication that
the woman in the case report did not exist
• This was a problem because he was editor of
the journal
• This was an even more serious problem
because he was a co-author on the case report
• He suggested it was normal for senior people to
put their names on papers they had done little
work on
The Pearce affair: The fall out
• The Daily Mail made it a front page story
• Pearce struck off by the GMC
• Chamberlain resigned as journal editor and
college president
• A college working party investigated the affair
• Both men were disgraced
• Yet how many similar stories have gone
How did this TV doctor get himself
into trouble?
• "to copy (ideas, passages of text, etc.) from someone
else's work and use them as if they were one's
own"(Chambers Dictionary)
• "ranges from unreferenced use of others' published
and unpublished ideas … to submission under 'new'
authorship of a complete paper"(COPE guidelines)
• Contributorship
• “Please note the way that we list the names of
contributors to papers published in the BMJ. We
believe that the definition of authorship, produced
by the International Committee of Medical Journal
Editors (or Vancouver Group), has some serious
BMJ: Contributors
• We now list contributors in two ways. Firstly, we publish a
list of authors' names at the beginning of the paper and,
secondly, we list contributors (some of whom may not be
included as authors) at the end of the paper, giving details
of who did what in planning, conducting, and reporting the
• One or more of these contributors are listed as guarantors
of the paper. The guarantor accepts full responsibility for
the work and/or the conduct of the study, had access to the
data, and controlled the decision to publish.
The Lancet
• We ask all authors and all contributors (including
medical writers and editors) to specify their
individual contributions at the end of the text.
• For reports of original data and systematic reviews,
authors’ specific contributions will be published in
the Acknowledgment section
JAMA: Group authorship
• “If authorship is attributed to a group (either solely
or in addition to 1 or more individual authors), all
members of the group must meet the full criteria
and requirements for authorship as described
Group authorship
• Individual authors can be listed in the article,
either in the byline or elsewhere
• Authors listed in this way will be included in
• Many different policies (ICMJE, WAME, COPE,
individual journals)
• ICMJE guidance probably invites dishonesty
• Contributorship slowly being adopted
• Traditional authorship lives on but no rules on
ordering of authors
• Role of corresponding author varies
How to avoid problems? Resolve

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