Trust is among the fundamental bases on which scientific communication rests: trust that the authors have fairly and accurately reported their findings and disclosed all pertinent commercial and professional relationships that could bias those findings, and trust that editors have exercised sufficient diligence and skepticism to ensure accurate reporting and disclosure by authors. This section focuses on principles to which authors should conform to ensure that this trust is not misplaced.
Many journals provide guidelines for authorship in their Instructions for Authors, as do many professional organizations in their statements on ethics. Although the following guidelines on authorship and contributorship were formulated in the context of biomedicine, many of their underlying principles are applicable to all areas of science.
In 1985, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) published criteria within the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals that defined authorship. The current ICMJE statement on authorship46 reads:
During the 1990s, this model came under scrutiny because the number of individuals and breadth of contributions involved in clinical studies increased and because authors failed to make adequate disclosures.47,48 The perceived inadequacies in the ICMJE model led some to suggest a complementary model that departed from the more traditional concepts of authorship, in the hope that editors would be better able to elicit actual contributions from authors and to convey a more accurate sense of each author's responsibility for the study.47
This model of "contributorship" has been adopted by a number of major biomedical journals.49 The general aim of contributorship disclosure is to have authors describe, on the basis of a contributor taxonomy created by journal editors, exactly what each author did during the course of the study from its inception to publication, such as obtaining funding for the study; recruiting subjects; coordinating, collecting, and analyzing the data; and writing and revising the manuscript.48 Under this model, authors are also expected to designate their functional role within the group (e.g., principal investigator, coinvestigator, statistician, contributing author).48 It is argued that this additional layer of disclosure contributes to greater transparency on the part of authors.49
The purpose of contributorship disclosures is to have each author and/or contributor personally affirm his or her role, to disclose publicly to readers what each author did,49 and to gain from authors what Jerome Kassirer has described as "public responsibility for [article] content."50 While the ICMJE criteria provide guidance about the types of contributions that characterize authors, it is ultimately the role of researchers themselves and not the editors to decide which individuals have contributed sufficiently to earn the designation "author." Individuals who have made less substantial contributions should be identified in the Acknowledgments.
What authorship problems are editors specifically trying to identify and address? A range of inappropriate types of authorship have been described, including guest authorship, honorary or gift authorship, and ghost authorship.49,51,52
Guest authorship. Guest authorship has been defined as authorship based solely on an expectation that inclusion of a particular name will improve the chances that the study will be published or increase the perceived status of the publication. The "guest" author makes no discernible contributions to the study, so this person meets none of the criteria for authorship.
Honorary or gift authorship. Honorary or gift authorship has been defined as authorship based solely on a tenuous affiliation with a study. A salient example would be "authorship" based on one's position as the head of a department in which the study took place.
Ghost authorship. Ghost authors participate in the research, data analysis, and/or writing of a manuscript but are not named or disclosed in the author byline or Acknowledgments. Examples of ghost authors include undisclosed contributors who are employees of pharmaceutical or device companies, medical writers, marketing and public relations writers, and junior staff writing for elected or appointed officials.53 Any person who makes a substantial contribution to a manuscript should be listed in the author byline, if appropriate, or in the Acknowledgments, along with the individuals' institutional affiliations, if relevant.54
Anonymous Authorship. Because authorship should be transparent and requires public accountability, it is not appropriate to use pseudonyms or to publish scientific reports anonymously. In extremely rare cases, when the author can make a credible claim that attaching his or her name to the document could cause serious hardship (e.g., threat to personal safety or loss of employment), a journal editor may decide to publish anonymous content.
Other categories of authorship that may be acceptable in certain circumstances include group authorship and the inclusion of deceased or incapacitated authors.
Group Authorship. Group authorship55 may be appropriate when a group of researchers has collaborated on a project, such as a multicenter trial, a consensus document, or an expert panel. Because it can be inaccurate and impossible to list all collaborators (some would not meet basic ICMJE authorship criteria and byline space may preclude such a listing), authors need to think about how to communicate credit and responsibility for content. The editors of JAMA have outlined 2 group authorship models:54
- Authorship in which each person in the group meets authorship criteria, in which case the group is listed as the author, with the caveat that editors may require at least 1 coauthor to assume the role of content guarantor.
- Authorship in which a select subgroup of the whole is listed in the byline on behalf of the whole.
Deceased or Incapacitated Authors. For cases in which a coauthor dies or is incapacitated during the writing, submission, or peer review process, coauthors should obtain disclosure and copyright documentation from a familial or legal proxy.54
In an Acknowledgments section, authors may wish to include the names and contributions of those whose involvement in a study did not qualify them for authorship or, because of journal policy on the number of authors in the author byline, cannot be included in the author byline. Authors should have each person listed in the acknowledgment sign a disclosure form or other statement acknowledging that they agree to have their names appear.
The order of authors in the byline is a collective decision of the authors or study group. Disagreements about author order should be resolved by the authors before the article is submitted for publication. Disputes that arise after submission could delay or prevent publication. Authors should not expect editors to become embroiled in disputes among authors over name placement in the byline.
Much has been written about the meaning of each place in the byline listing, particularly among the first 6 authors.54 Some journals specify how many authors they will accept in the author byline, which can range between 3 and 25 authors. Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 8 and 14-17).
Any changes the authors wish to make to the author byline after the initial submission of a manuscript should be made in writing and the document should be signed by all authors, including those being added or removed. The new author list should be stated directly along with a justification for the change.35,36,37,38 Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 6, 7, and 14-17).
Confidentiality. The author-editor relationship is founded on confidentiality. All communication between an author and editor within the context of a specific manuscript is to be held in confidence. Authors should designate a specific contact for all communication about the manuscript throughout peer review and (if accepted) the publication process. Authors should observe journal policy on communication with external peer reviewers (the policy may vary depending on whether a journal uses masked or nonmasked peer review) and should observe journal policy on prepublication embargoes (see section 2.6 on responsibilities to the media).
Originality. The authors should provide a statement attesting to the originality of the study they have submitted for consideration. Originality is crucial, because many journals have limited space and editors may give a low priority to studies that, regardless of scientific accuracy and validity, do not advance the scientific enterprise. Some journals may ask authors to provide copies of reports on other studies (articles, manuscripts, and abstracts) related to the study under consideration.42,43,44,45 Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 1-5 and 14-17).
Disclosures. Authors have a responsibility to be forthright when complying with journal submission requirements. This entails disclosure about the originality of the content, a statement of an author's actual contribution to the study, and financial and conflict of interest disclosures. Some journals also require statements on the regulatory status of any drugs or devices used in the study.56 Authors should expect editors to publish all relevant disclosures with their accepted manuscript.19,20 Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 9 and 14-17).
Many journals require authors to disclose sources of funding for the study they wish to report. Authors should disclose all sources of funding (government, corporate, other) and any products or services (such as materials and equipment, statistical analysis, and scientific writing) provided by third parties in the course of the research, analysis, or reporting. Some journals stipulate that authors disclose financial relationships in dollar amounts and set specific dollar thresholds. Items to be disclosed include employment, consultancies, stock ownership, honoraria, expert testimony, and patents.57
Some journals use a contributorship form, wherein authors attest to their specific contributions. Authors may expect that editors will publish these statements with their accepted manuscript.58
Copyright Assignment. In medical publishing, authors are usually expected to assign copyright to the journal publishing their study. Assignment of copyright is a legal document in which the authors assign certain rights to the publisher. Alternatively, some journals may use a licensing agreement. Although individual arrangements vary, these agreements generally allow the authors to retain certain rights to the material. In either case, the content in question must be original and not otherwise under copyright elsewhere (in whole or in part). Authors should ensure that the study under consideration is original and does not contain plagiarized content. In addition, authors must avoid duplicate publication, which is reproducing verbatim content from their other publications. Some journal editors may not be willing to consider submissions containing content the authors have published elsewhere, because it may violate copyright and could be an indication that the study contributes only marginally to the literature.
Permissions. Authors frequently wish to reuse previously published images and other copyrighted material. It is the author's responsibility to follow journal or publisher guidelines to reuse any copyrighted material and provide proper attribution. This includes the author's own work if the copyright was ever transferred to a publisher or journal. Authors should contact the journal or publisher of the source material or consult the "permissions" information that can be found on many of their web sites. Permission should be granted in writing and the authors should retain this documentation. The editor may request a copy of this notification as well.
Multiple Submissions. In the biomedical sciences, it is not acceptable for authors to submit the report of a study to several journals at the same time, including a manuscript undergoing peer review that has not been formally rejected by the original journal to which the manuscript was submitted. Authors who do not follow this standard may find that editors reject their papers as a violation of policy. In addition, this practice can be a violation of copyright.
If authors want to submit their article to another journal while it is under consideration elsewhere, then they must send formal notification to the editor of the journal in which it is under consideration, requesting that their study be withdrawn from further consideration (see section 3.1.3). All coauthors must agree to the request for withdrawal and this agreement must be made clear to the editor of the journal with which the study is under consideration. Authors should request formal acknowledgment from the journal to the effect that the editors understand the manuscript has been withdrawn from future consideration. On receipt of notification from the journal acknowledging the withdrawal, the authors may submit their manuscript elsewhere. They should retain a copy of the notification.
Registration of Clinical Trials. ICMJE's member journals59 and many others require that to be considered for publication, any prospective, interventional clinical research study must have been appropriately recorded in an approved trial registry before enrollment of the first subject.60,61 The goal of this policy is to promote the public availability of a comprehensive database of clinical trials. Registry is undertaken by trial investigators or sponsors (see section 2.4 on sponsor roles and responsibilities). The ICMJE recommends that journals publish the trial registration number at the end of the abstract and that authors specify the registration number the first time they use a trial acronym in a manuscript.61 Before the start of a study, the authors should consider whether the journals to which they may want to submit their study report have adopted this policy.
The ICMJE accepts registration in the following registries:
In addition to the above registries, the ICMJE accepts registration in any of the primary registries that participate in the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP).67,68 Authors should check periodically to identify any registries that may be added to this list. Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 10 and 14-17).
For most clinical studies, the entry of "basic results" data into the registry is required within 12 months of completion of data collection.69 The ICMJE does not consider results posted in a trial's registry as previous publication if they are presented only as a brief (less than 500 words) structured abstract or table. Journals that are not members of ICMJE are urged to follow the same guideline.69 When submitting a paper, authors should fully disclose to editors all posting of results of the submitted work or closely related work in registries. When deciding whether to consider a trial report for publication, journal editors may review the study's data fields to ensure that they are complete and informative.
Public Access Requirements of Funding Agencies. United States federal law requires that an electronic version of all peer-reviewed journal manuscripts reporting studies funded wholly or in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must be submitted to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. The material is to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.70 The purpose of this policy is to ensure public access to the peer-reviewed, published results of all NIH-funded research; to create an archive of peer-reviewed research publications resulting from NIH funding; and to create a searchable compendium of NIH-funded research to help the agency manage and monitor scientific productivity and set priorities.71
The NIH public access instructions72 and frequently asked questions73 are available online. There are 4 options for submitting manuscripts to PubMed Central.74 To ensure compliance, NIH Program Officials will check the citations in grant applications, proposals, or progress reports for PubMed Central Identifiers or appropriate alternatives.75
A number of other U.S. and international funding agencies (e.g., the Canadian Institutes of Health Research,76 Howard Hughes Medical Institute,77 Wellcome Trust,78 and the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council79) have public access requirements. It is the author's responsibility to understand and adhere to the requirements of any agency funding the author's research.
Human Subjects Research. All journals should require formal affirmation that human subjects research on which a submission is based was approved by an institutional review board (IRB) or complied with the Declaration of Helsinki80 and/or relevant NIH forms.81 The researchers must have conducted the study according to the approved protocol and acceptable research standards, including having obtained informed consent of study subjects. Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 11, 12, and 14-17). Although some IRBs may consider certain types of studies, such as case reports, to be exempt from their approval, IRB review may still be necessary to make that determination. Journal editors may request a copy of the IRB determination letter during manuscript submission. Additionally, authors should obtain written informed consent from the subjects of case reports and written permission to use any identifiable images.
Animal Research. All journals should require formal affirmation that any research involving animals was approved by an animal care and use committee and was conducted according to the approved protocol and acceptable research standards for animal experimentation. Click here for examples of editorial letters related to this topic (refer to letters 12 and 14-17).
Cell Line Authentication. The problem of cell line contamination and misidentification has been recognized since the 1960s.82 The issue remains unresolved and there is growing concern over the ongoing, widespread use of misidentified cell lines. Although there is general agreement in the scientific community that this is a serious problem, there is less agreement on the possible solutions.
Cell line authentication is the use of appropriate methods to verify that cell lines used in specific research studies are properly identified. It has been proposed that research using unauthenticated cell lines should not be funded or published.82 The NIH, which has published a policy notice on the issue,83 finds that solution impractical, relying instead on peer reviewers of grants and manuscripts. Their role, in part, is to examine the experimental methods used by researchers and assure that they are appropriate.
Authors should be aware of the potential problem to ensure that they are presenting valid research. Journal editors and publishers are currently determining how to address the issue of cell line authentication, so guidelines may be developed in the future.41
(Authorship: Michael Vasko took the lead in writing this section of the white paper on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. Kristi Overgaard and Sharon Naron revised this section for the 2009 update. Members of the Editorial Policy Committee and the CSE Board of Directors reviewed and commented on it. This section was formally approved by the CSE Board of Directors on March 29, 2009.)
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Guidelines. Available at: http://publicationethics.org/guidelines (Accessed March 28, 2009).
Council of Science Editors (CSE). CSE recommendations for group-author articles in scientific journals and bibliometric databases. Available at: http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3373 (Accessed January 31, 2011).
International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals. Available at: http://www.icmje.org (Accessed January 20, 2011).
National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Informed consent template for cancer treatment trials (English language). May 23, 2006. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/understanding/simplification-of-informed-consent-docs/page3 (Accessed January 20, 2011).
National Institutes of Health, Office of Human Subjects Research (OHSR). OHSR information sheets/forms. Available at: http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/info/info.html (Accessed January 20, 2011).
Utiger RD, for the Education Committee of the World Association of Medical Editors. A syllabus for prospective and newly appointed editors. Available at: http://www.wame.org/syllabus.htm#policies/resources/editor-s-syllabus (Accessed January 20, 2011).
World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. October 22, 2008. Available at: http://www.wma.net/en/30publications/10policies/b3/index.html (Accessed January 31, 2011).