Intellectual and Ethical Guidelines for Authorship in the Sciences
Scientific authorship entails significant responsibilities as well as significant rewards, and those responsibilities should be as real and important to scientists who publish their research as the rewards are. For the most part these responsibilities are associated with the need for readers to be able to rely on the scientific research reported, and guidelines for authorship in the sciences have been developed to establish principles, expectations and responsibilities of formal authorship that help ensure the accountability of scientists and the continued quality and value of published scientific research.
The journals that publish scientific research papers and the funding agencies that support scientific research often have specific guidelines regarding the nature and assignment of authorship, so it is essential to discover the authorship guidelines relevant to your manuscript and adhere to them. However, it is also valuable to know that the same general guidelines tend to apply to formal authorship across many scientific publishers and research-funding bodies. Keeping these in mind as you and your co-authors write about your research and prepare your scientific manuscript for publication can prevent conflicts and other problems.
• Authorship status is usually the result of significant contributions to the conception and design of a scientific research project as well as to the acquisition, analysis and interpretation of the findings. An author is actively involved in drafting and revising the intellectual content of a scientific manuscript and he or she approves the manuscript before submission and is responsible for its content. When many authors write a document, each may be accountable only for the section he or she contributed.
• Contributors are not necessarily authors unless they meet the criteria above, but their contributions and affiliations should be noted either in a list of contributors or in the acknowledgements section of a scientific manuscript. Examples of contributory activities that do not constitute authorship include obtaining financial support, providing research space or equipment, offering administrative services, and proofreading and improving the language of a manuscript.
• When there are several scientific authors of a paper submitted for publication, one author may serve as guarantor of the content of the entire manuscript. It is standard for one author to be chosen as the corresponding author who is responsible for communicating with the editor throughout the process of submission, peer review and publication. This author is usually also responsible for ensuring that administrative requirements such as copyright and licensing agreements, permissions to reuse copyrighted material, clinical trial registration, ethical committee approval, authorship declarations and contributor conflict of interest disclosures are completed.
• Assigning guest authorship to increase the prestige and publication possibilities of a scientific manuscript or giving honorary authorship to individuals who have no significant connection with the research is an unacceptable practice for reputable scientific authors. Only individuals who have significantly contributed to the research and writing of a scientific document are authors, and misrepresenting the relationship between named authors and the scientific research in a manuscript is misconduct. Also unacceptable authorship behaviour among legitimate scientific publishers is submitting a research manuscript to more than one journal or press simultaneously, duplicating research to increase publications, using the work of others without clear acknowledgement and presenting fraudulent data.
• It is the responsibility of the authors of a scientific manuscript to decide issues of authorship role and assignment, and to ensure that their research is published in a manner that meets the requirements of any agencies providing financial support. Open access publication may be necessary, for instance, or editorial practices that include peer review.
• The current tendency in scientific publishing is for greater detail and precision in declarations of author contributions and increased transparency for contributor affiliations. Some journals are already requesting more detailed and specific information about each author’s functional role, with some requiring explicit statements of activities and contributions before they will accept a scientific research manuscript for publication.
Scientific disciplines differ, of course, but if you would like more information on authorship guidelines that are widely applied in the sciences, an excellent place to begin is with the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) on the roles and responsibilities of scientific authors and contributors.
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