No Suprise Authorship Allowed!

This commentary exchange is so important I am pulling it out into general circulation. Folks, listing someone as an author without asking first is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin (ICMJE guidelines for starters) & frankly cannot do the topic justice on this three-alarm afternoon here. For now, suffice it to say … no one should ever serendipitously learn that he or she has been unknowingly (& without permission) listed as an author on a submitted manuscript or published article! Update: Folks – lots of thoughtful & thought-provoking commentary, well worth the long scroll. Even Better Update: Drugmonkey has started a terrific (& needed) discussion on responsible material sharing (journal policies, replication of results in other labs, community of science, etc.). Please go forth and comment!

Even BETTER Update: Marilyn alerted us to the article “The write position. A survey of perceived contributions to papers based on byline position and number of authors” just published in EMBO reports. Of note to this discussion, “40% of the respondents … agreed that granting authorship to someone who does not meet journal authorship criteria was a common occurrence” – actually an increase from 25 years ago when an APA survey (cited by Wren et al.) showed that “28% of respondents reported having been involved in a situation where they believed that their authorship was not commensurate with their input; 21% considered honorary authorship reasonable” (Vasta, 1981).

Unusual Update: And then there is the punishment for grad student plagiarism proposed to Randy Cohen, which The Ethicist of the NYT Magazine concludes would be ineffectual.

Redirect Update: Marilyn posted under About another egregious incident of unauthorized authorship from the WSJ Health Blog.

Further update & suggestion in Nature: Marilyn points out where the offending article that started this thread was published (with flaws intact, see her comments below) – Am J Cardiol 2007;100:1609-1613 – and Kevin Yager at NIST advocates in Nature that each co-author “describe his or her contribution and … sign a final description of the division of labour” (this in response to Nature’s suggested approach to maintaining author accountability).



  1. drugmonkey said

    no one should learn anything from a ‘reviewer’ of the paper – this is supposed to be confidential. I think the commenter was talking about an accepted manuscript placed online by the journal prior to assignment to an issue.

    Exactly so. Doing way too much at once to have noticed the “in press” qualifier, which indicates an e-pub ahead of print. Corrected above in case someone doesn’t read this corrective comment – and still very egregious for any author to discover authorship in this manner! – writedit

  2. drugmonkey said

    it happens though. i was reading somewhere or other in blogland where someone belatedly ran across a pub they didn’t know they had. the work dated from some long-ago undergraduate effort or something. I thought it was absurd until I recently ran across a reviewI didn’t know about because it was in a new journal that wasn’t getting indexed by anyone. the colleague was really fairly close in location, i just hadn’t heard anything since writing up a first draft of our part. no biggie, just laziness on the part of the corresponding. but it makes you think what can be accidentally overlooked in big collaborative things where you have courtesy authorships because they supplied mice or reagents to the lab three papers ago…

  3. RGP said

    How about meeting abstracts? I’ve been listed (surprise!) on more than just a handful of abstracts…..Would have been nice to have reviewed the material prior to it going in circulation…..

  4. writedit said

    Where the hell are nuns with their knuckle-rapping rulers when you need them?

    “Courtesy” authorships? Surprise poster billings?

    No, no, no, no, no.

    First think, what is an author? Not someone trafficking in mice or drugs certainly. Someone who makes a significant intellectual contribution to the manuscript and therefore, by definition, knows of the manuscript’s existence (no matter the type of publication or status of journal).

    Second think, do I want my name associated with material now in the public domain that could wind up the star of a misconduct trial?

    Third think, okay, this no-account review isn’t at risk of landing me in the ORI doghouse, but is it the quality of writing & in the sort of journal I want folks to associate with me (& my reputation)? Are the data sloppily or carelessly presented? In other words, given the choice, would I have knowingly participated in preparing this manuscript or poster? (even if so, the lead author is NOT off the hook & should have more than knuckles rapped)

  5. whimple said

    The view of authors as non-mouse traffickers doesn’t match reality. I personally have obtained published reagents/constructs/cell lines/mice where co-authorship was an explicit condition of sharing the materials. It’s a little flakey, but if they want to play it that way, what’s the harm? I’m calling it “cultural differences” and letting it go.

    The Acknowledgments section covers helpful technical contributions – though developing any of the items you cite as *part* of the research (versus a necessary ingredient that could be contributed by any qualified lab) would entitle consideration for authorship. But authorship extortion rackets? This would at the very least slip into what Brian Martinson et al. would describe as “normal misbehavior.” Not a culture, acceptable though it might be, I’d want to encourage perpetuating. – writedit

  6. drugmonkey said

    writedit i dearly hope you are distinguishing between the descriptive and the prescriptive here. and adding a healthy dose of real politik as well. as whimple points out, this IS the game that has evolved. and when you see an otherwise completely unrelated author on a paper that uses said author’s mice well, everybody can interpret the “authorship” correctly. communication accomplished so what’s the problem?

    kinda like people in the humanities with single author pubs asking why in the heck the PI “gets on” the biomedical paper. it doesn’t devalue the authorship because this is the system employed!

    where we run into big trouble, i feel, is not recognizing subculture differences in authorship practices and in trying to force all subfields into some single model of authorship assignment…

  7. PhysioProf said

    “The view of authors as non-mouse traffickers doesn’t match reality. I personally have obtained published reagents/constructs/cell lines/mice where co-authorship was an explicit condition of sharing the materials.”

    I have always taken the view that if an essential reagent is provided before it has been published elsewhere, then that is a contribution worthy of authorship. Provision of a published reagent, however, should not merit authorship. This is pretty well accepted among people who work with Drosophila or C. elegans.

  8. writedit said

    Everyone happy with the game that has evolved? So glad to hear it.

    BTW, The Scientist continues its commentary/discussion of authorship disputes.

  9. PhysioProf said

    The overwhelmingly vast majority of the time, authorship is undisputed. But that doesn’t make for interesting commentary, so blogs and magazines focus on the rare disputes.

  10. Marilyn said

    I’m a lawyer, not a scientist, so I’m not familiar with the applicable rules. For myself, I would not my name attached to this particular article without my knowledge. It contained some obvious errors, such as hazard ratios outside the confidence intervals and inconsistent figures or percentages in the tables/text/abstract.

  11. Delenn said

    Shame on any of you trading authorship for reagents, antibodies, iRNA or mice (etc). Did you also affix the name of your chairman because he or she gave you start up funds? Looking in the opposite direction, did you consistently add the technician who ran your assays (but didn’t have the PhD behind their name) as an author?

    There are plenty of friendly mechanisms out there where mice, reagents, etc can be obtained for cold hard cash, or if the barter system is more your liking, trade up for authorship with intellect. Authorship should stand for author-ship, not you ship it, we’ll author you! Why not ask your mouse vendor /reagent supplier for some real intellectual input; pick their brains, don’t just accept their mice with their shriveled potato from the Fed Ex man or lady. Make ’em work for it, the mice did!

  12. PhysioProf said

    “Shame on any of you trading authorship for reagents, antibodies, iRNA or mice (etc).”

    If these reagents are unpublished, then it is wholly appropriate that their provision merit authorship of a paper reporting experiments in which they are used. This is because their preparation and provision represents a substantial intellectual contribution to the work being reported.

    Once the reagents are published, this is no longer true, as no intellectual effort is, at least in principle, required to duplicate them. After publication, the obligation is to provide them to any investigator capable of using them in exchange for nothing more than the reasonable expenses of production and shipping.

  13. whimple said

    “After publication, the obligation is to provide them to any investigator capable of using them in exchange for nothing more than the reasonable expenses of production and shipping”

    This “obligation” is routinely ignored, probably in large part because this following statement is false:

    “Once the reagents are published … no intellectual effort is, at least in principle, required to duplicate them.”

    To illustrate, once upon a time I was a member of a lab that purified proteins. After publication, we would routinely get requests of the form, “I really enjoyed your paper in X. I’d like to try experiment Y. Can you please send me 10 mg of protein Z?” These requests were almost invariably denied along these lines: “The instructions on how to purify protein Z are clearly delineated in our work X. We’d be happy to answer questions about the purification procedure.”

    This whole issue of freely shared published reagents boiled over several years ago when protein crystallographers complained that after all the time, effort and expense that went into solving a structure, the first paper describing the structure wasn’t worth it, regardless of where it was published, if that meant the crystallographic atomic coordinates were immediately made available to everyone. Giving away this information meant the crystallographers couldn’t stay in business. As I recall, a compromise of sorts was reached whereby the journals and crystallographers agreed collectively that the atomic coordinates of solved structures would be freely released to the public one year after the date of first publication.

    In my experience, most requests for published materials are met with silence. There isn’t any practical recourse (for example, complaining to the journal that published the work isn’t practical because it would be career suicide, as would continual hounding after the people with the materials). Generally I don’t need the intellectual contribution from people who could send reagents, so someone who answers a request for reagents with, “I’d be happy to send the materials collaboratively,” gets their name on the paper without needing to make an “intellectual contribution”.

  14. Mentorless said

    Re: “[…P]lenty of friendly mechanisms out there where mice, reagents, etc can be obtained for cold hard cash…”

    1. Many GM mice strains are available only from the inventing lab. Few are deposited in public repositories. Anyway, reviving a line from frozen embryos takes much more money and time than procuring live fertiles from the inventing lab – which is free.

    2. Similarly, cell lines, antibodies, “reagents, etc” from commercial sources are very expensive – even not relative to free.

    Re: “[…T]rade up for authorship with intellect?”

    1. Although published reagents are supposed to be supplied on-demand, sometimes they are not. There is no enforcement. The result is the bribery/extortion of authorship.

    2. Professor A is a highly lauded, internationally known, really bright (and I mean Supernova-bright) scientist. Professor B is not even playing single A ball. Professor B needs any publication s/he can get.
    Professor A has a hypothesis. S/He wants Professor B’s GM mice to help test her/his hypothesis. Professor A knows making the mice her-/himself would take a year or two and thus a waste of taxpayer funds. Professor A phones Professor B and requests the mice. Professor B demands to know what Professor A plans to do with the mice. Professor A hesitates. (Professor A knows Professor B could do only part of the experiments – yet even these not very well and not half as fast. Professor A is an expert in the field and Professor B would have to start at learning from scratch. Clearly Professor B can make no intellectual contribution at this point.)
    But Professor B demands to know – in his usual aggressive, nasty way. So, Professor A relents and explains the hypothesis to Professor B. Professor B admits s/he has not conceived such a hypotheses. Yet Professor B demands authorship since s/he could also do some of the experiments. Professor A is amazed, dumbfounded, and flabbergasted. Professor A mentions that some journals require disclosure of author contributions. Professor B explains that journal editors and reviewers don’t check author contribution disclosures. S/He’s seen plenty of papers disclosing certain authors merely “oversaw” or “provided reagents.” Professor A expresses concern about contributing to this corruption. Professor A, however, again relents – agreeing to Professor B’s authorship demand.
    Professor A then realizes that maybe Professor B’s postdoc who generated the mouse strain should also get a “free-one.” Professor B rejects the idea saying that the postdoc would probably reject the idea since s/he’s quite a stickler for scientific rules and responsibilities. The postdoc, who has moved on, is never informed of the “collaboration” that ensues.
    In the end, 2 years later, a brilliant paper is published from Professor A’s lab using, among other reagents, mice developed and previously published by Professor B. Professor B is an “author.” However, although the Authors Contributions disclosure distributes the “conceiving & designing experiments,” “carrying out experiments,” “analyzing data,” and “writing and editing the manuscript” responsibilities among most authors, it assigns only “contributing reagents/materials/analysis tools” to Professor B and some other authors. Ironically, the Acknowledgments thanks Professor C, who is not an author, for providing a mouse strain (different from Professor B’s).
    Professor B includes the paper on her/his CV in grant applications and gives seminars describing the paper’s results. But, in the seminars, Professor B states the results were generated in “collaboration.” Professor B knows NIH grant reviewers don’t check CVs carefully. Professor B thinks maybe s/he should include the paper’s data in grant applications – as generated by her/his lab.
    The postdoc is furious upon seeing the published paper. S/He has been working on similar experiments and had informed Professor B of her/his progress.

    Really – I promise you – this is how it works.

  15. PhysioProf said

    “In my experience, most requests for published materials are met with silence.”

    This is emphatically not my experience, and emphatically not the common practice among the worldwide community who works on the genetic model organism my lab does. Out of literally hundreds of requests for genetic strains I have made over the years, I can think of fewer than a half-dozen times my requests have been ignored.

  16. whimple said

    Clearly your model organism is non-mammalian then.

  17. PhysioProf said



  18. drugmonkey said

    whimple and PhysioProf your back-n-forth just makes my point. different subfields, even if highly related like genetic manipulation of fruit flies and mice, may have very different default practices. So long as everyone agrees on what the communication means, how can this be a problem worthy of so much heat? a failure to be familiar with practices outside of your narrow area of interest is ignorance, not moral superiority.

    Now Mentorless has something interesting at first blush but is just pedestrian fraud and bad behavior in the end. Screwing the long-gone postdoc out of credit is just that. Misrepresenting one’s contribution in seminars and grant applications is fraudulent. But this has nothing to do with the correctness of the original authorship “extortion”.

    The Prof A / Prof B thing is a pretty clear case to me. For a very long time now, just making the the mice available got the original lab on the paper. Sure, at some point or in some cases the original PI dropped this expectation but that is up to her or him. I’d suggest the default is “gets on the paper”.

    As well it should be. Creating a gene manipulated murine model is a lot of work. Why should some big lab be able to swoop in, take what is substantial intellectual property essentially for free and furthermore use their bigness to cut off the smaller labs entire future with that intellectual property because they can do it faster/better/bigger? So what if the big lab had a hypothesis that the small lab hadn’t gotten around to thinking about yet? hypotheses are a dime a dozen. blurting out some idea in a seminar doesn’t credit you in this biz, publishing the paper does.

  19. drugmonkey said

    “once upon a time I was a member of a lab that purified proteins. After publication, we would routinely get requests of the form, “I really enjoyed your paper in X. I’d like to try experiment Y. Can you please send me 10 mg of protein Z?” These requests were almost invariably denied along these lines: “The instructions on how to purify protein Z are clearly delineated in our work X. We’d be happy to answer questions about the purification procedure.””

    once upon a time I was a member of a group that routinely exposed animals to drugs of abuse in somewhat complicated self-administration models or twitchy technical preparations (say vapor inhalation of ethanol). Can you imagine someone asking “Gee, you published this interesting exposure model, can you please send me 24 exposed rat brains and 24 matched controls? I have this hypothesis about the mentorless transcription factor being upregulated in the Physio-Whimple nucleus and since you didn’t have that hypothesis yet, you don’t mind do you? Oh, and I have this grant deadline so could you have ’em here in a month? “.

    Absurd, right? I hope you think so…

  20. writedit said

    Whoa – having a week from Hades here, and you folks go wild. Great fodder for RCR case studies certainly. Thanks much to DM for batting clean-up so effectively. Except, “pedestrian fraud”? Sigh. I think we can agree that substantive contributions (versus interchangeable cogs) warrant an authorship byline … though I would hope these would not be secured via extortion so much as genuine collaboration & intellectual contribution to the research & the manuscript (cue the violins – I know, dream on, writedit).

    Certainly the original source of this discussion – the person listed as an author without his/her knowledge (never mind on a paper with obvious errors etc.) has a legitimate complaint about the behavior of the “co-authors” and hopefully will take action to rectify the situation.

  21. drugmonkey said

    “Except, “pedestrian fraud”? Sigh.”

    Easy there writedit. All I mean by this is that it is completely uninteresting to talk about amoral people acting badly with essentially full knowledge that it is inappropriate behavior. Or even if the perp is a sociopath and thinks her/his actions are cool, everyone else knows it is not. the obvious case is dull.

    I was not trying to suggest that the “Prof B” actions were acceptable as a cost of business or anything like that. There should be a clear distinction between generally acceptable subfield practices that might violate some other subfield’s practices and fraud/unethical practices that are not acceptable in any subfield…

  22. whimple said

    It is NOT generally acceptable in my field, but it IS common practice. If push came to shove and someone really wanted to self-destruct by making a stink about it, go hounding after the individuals with repeated phone calls and certified letters, complain to the NIH, the journals and the various institutions involved, they could, and likely with short-term success. Almost everyone is being bad, and knows they are being bad, and collectively doesn’t lose much sleep over it. Don’t pretend that in any field this is considered correct behavior, even if it is typical behavior.

  23. drugmonkey said

    how do you all feel about postmortem authorships?

    Don’t pretend that in any field this is considered correct behavior, even if it is typical behavior.

    And the problem with postmortem authorship generally is? So long as the author made substantive contributions to the work and the preparation of the manuscript while he/she was alive, the authorship criteria are satisfied … perhaps more so than for some animate authors per this thread. However, gratuitous postmortem authorship just to honor the deceased is no more acceptable than gratituitous authorship to honor (or pacify) the living. The Online Ethics Center includes a case study involving long-dead authors, and I recently read a commentary on this issue in a biomedical journal … probably hopeless in my current mental state to dredge up where. Forgot to add that a family or legal proxy should (must? help from our lawyer friend?) provide consent for disclosure of the deceased author’s deceased state in print as well as copyright assignment. – writedit

    since this is a long thread, are we talking about not sending mice when asked unless an authorship is offered? do you really believe this is “bad”? if so, where is the line vis a vis my suggestion about drug-exposed rat brains above?

    Not all mice are created equal, and those more equal than others are worthy of authorship rights – again, based on their role in the research at hand. Access to your self-administered drug-exposed mice would be a collaboration, not a standard-issue donation of tissue. However, DM, would brain and liver tissue taken from mice to which the drug (readily accessible – nothing exotic) was routinely administered by a lab tech for standard toxicology testing fall in the same category? Probably not – but nor would a PI need to make a special request for such “pedestrian” mice … though they should do so to reduce the number of animals used if tissue from another source would fit the bill (with provision of such tissue acknowledged – nothing more). – writedit

  24. whimple said

    No, I’m talking about not sharing cell lines, plasmids, antibodies and chemical reagents, although you could maybe include mice too depending on how strictly you read the journal guidelines. Getting answers to these type of requests as Nobody-Assistant-Professor at Nowhere-State-U are very hit-or-miss, mostly miss. If you’re a post-doc requesting any of these materials, you generally have no chance, in my experience. I think that the non-compliance is usually due to couldn’t-be-botheredness, rather than malice, but the result is the same. I hope my experiences are unique in this regard, but suspect that they are not. Drug exposed rat brains are obviously over the line of expected sharing, since the exposed brains are an experiment, not a reagent. I’m talking about stuff that can be pulled out of a freezer or off of a shelf, and a small chunk broken off and sent without a lot of loss on the part of the sending lab.

  25. […] 9th, 2007 A little discussion has been going on at MWE&G over the topic of materials sharing. To be very general about it, once a scientist has published a paper using a particular set of […]

  26. Marilyn said

    Here is the response from the person who did not know he was an author:

    re the article: I do not know what u are referring to
    Is this by Manish? I have not seen it
    He should be able to answer the ??’s

    I sent an e-mail to the editor-in-chief of the journal asking him what the journal’s policy was regarding authorship. I told him that I had sent an e-mail to one of the “authors” of the article and he did not seem to know about it. I told him which article I was referring to but I did not name the person to whom I had sent the e-mail. I also noted the errors.

    He did not give me any info on the journal’s policies, but he did thank me for my note and said he would inform the authors of the article.

  27. Delenn said

    Once more, I firmly believe that it is wrong to receive authorship simply for providing material (reagents, mammalian species, nonmammalian species, apparatus, you name it) to an investigator for his or her studies. Whereas I cheerfully acknowledge that the original creation or development of the said materials or animals /fish, etc required intellect and labor, I cannot condone authorship simply because the ‘creator or developer’ sent it to an unrelated lab. We don’t give authorship to Fisher Scientific or any of the antibody companies when we purchase their reagents, why would we give authorship to someone who sends mice? I encourage anyone who needs reagents from a lab to ask the creator or developer of that all important item for intellectual input in the form of a hearty discussionon your project; don’t just accept the reagents in return for some meaningless authorship, demeaning the contribution of your other co-authors (and while we’re at it, keep them to a higher standard). Offer a trade, or perhaps $$$$).

    Supply (reagents) and demand (authorship) is not good science. No wonder many promotion and tenure committees are encouraged to ignore or discount papers where the candidate is a middle author (because yes, they are on 28 papers for supplying antibodies).

  28. drugmonkey said

    Delenn, can you expand and focus on why you think this is a problem and where the line is? I mean, the fact that a company is…a for profit company….makes a bright distinguishing line as far as I’m concerned. the part about (i guess) diminishing “real” middle authorships I guess I can see in the abstract but in most cases these aren’t important anyway. And if you don’t happen to be on a bunch of papers from unrelated labs I doubt the default assumption was that you “just supplied reagents”. although I guess that can happen within big labs too.

    it is just not clear to me what is lost by being generous about the middle authorships. and yes, to answer your earlier question I do think that in many cases technicians deserve authorships and I try to be generous with those too. the for-profit thing makes a clear line of distinction for not getting to be an author, imo.

  29. Marilyn said

    I’m really getting educated here. I had no clue as to the significance of the order in which the authors’ names appear. The person who didn’t know about the article was listed last, if that’s relevant.

    The write position. A survey of perceived contributions to papers based on byline position and number of authors.

    Jonathan D. Wren, Katarzyna Z. Kozak, Kathryn R. Johnson, Sara J. Deakyne, Lisa M. Schilling & Robert P. Dellavalle

    EMBO reports 8, 11, 988–991 (2007). | Full Text | PDF | Supplementary Information |

    This is a great addition to the conversation, Marilyn, which I’m going to pull out at the beginning of the post so it doesn’t get lost. No suprise that everyone but the first (& maybe second) and last authors are ignored though. However, this is a serious issue given the increased emphasis (& need for) collaborative-translational research in which multiple investigators make significant contributions to the study and to the manuscript. – writedit

  30. whimple said

    “However, this is a serious issue given the increased emphasis (& need for) collaborative-translational research in which multiple investigators make significant contributions to the study and to the manuscript”

    The typical way this seems to be handled is to break the work into several smaller published pieces so that the premium authorship positions (first, last and corresponding) can be spread around to more people.

    I was disappointed that the EMBO Reports article didn’t explicitly ask about perceptions of “equal contribution” notations. My guess is that, the notation’s instructions notwithstanding, such notations are generally ignored with the result that second authorship with such a notatation is worth only marginally more than regular second authorship.

    Agreed on disappointment at lack of “equal contribution/coin flip” footnote coverage (as well as PhysioProf’s guess that most people don’t notice or don’t attach much weight to them). On the multiple papers – up to a point. Journals clearly do not accept duplicate manuscripts on the same study. Large clinical trials produce one umbrella article reporting the major data, from which smaller subgroup/secondary analyses (headed for smaller specialty journals) could be prepared. Even then, the editors will want the subgroup/secondary analyses papers to point to the article in which the primary outcomes were published, possibly diminishing the weight given to these spin-off articles & their authors. On the other hand, I can envision it being easier to carve up collaborative bench work involving genuinely distinct experimental contributions (toward a final whole) into 2-3 roughly equivalent papers focusing on different data & addressing the interests of different scientific audiences. -writedit

  31. PhysioProf said

    My personal practice is to give only marginal extra weight to a second author who provided an “equal contribution” compared to the first author. My unscientific impression is that this reaction is common.

  32. Delenn said

    Sorry I was out of town and missed some of the conversation. For Marilyn, my institution’s promotion and tenure committee routinely perceives that last authorship is the ‘professorial’ position; the mentor of the lab or the principal investigator of the funded study. Not always, but as a generalization. The first author is the individual who did most of the work, or directed the word (most likely the techs did the hands on work). This might be a postdoctoral fellow, a clinical fellow ‘doing research’, or a junior research assistant professor. These are just examples, not written in stone.

    So for promotion and tenure, the number of first and last authorship papers are ‘counted’ towards P & T, less weight, if any, is given if the candidate for promotion and tenure is a second, or further back author. The positions in between first and last simply are not considered pivotal. This may explain why so many individuals decide to grant authorship to suppliers of reagents or experimental animals/apparatus, etc. They do not grant authorship to Fisher Scientific because the company profits from the sale of said reagents, etc. Hmmmm. Cold hard cash is a good profit. So is authorship. So, the price is in a different guise, but it is still a price to be paid.

    Writedit’s own institution clearly lays out the customs/criteria for authorship; I believe it does a fair job of explaining how one large, top 10 research institution expects it’s faculty to proceed with authorship, AND points out who should NOT be granted authorship. We can argue about ‘customs’ later. (the policy follows, sorry it creates a lot of text, writedit … not to worry – thanks for contributing this … and I can add that health sciences faculty publications are tracked at the very highest level here, much to the surprise of some said faculty).

    Criteria for Authorship

    Publication must give appropriate credit to all authors for their roles in the research. If more than one person contributes significantly, the decision of which names are to be listed as co-authors should reflect the relative contributions of various participants in the research.

    Many professional associations and research journals have specified criteria for authorship. One common standard appearing in many of these statements is that each author should have participated in formulating the research problem, interpreting the results, and writing the research paper, and should be prepared to defend the publication against criticisms. Other statements require meeting two or three of the above criteria and, with respect to the last of these requirements, a more limited expectation is often prescribed – that each author should be prepared to defend against criticism those portions of the publication falling within his or her particular area of expertise.

    A person’s name should not be listed as author without his or her knowledge, permission, and review of the final version of the manuscript, which includes the names of all co-authors.

    A procedure that has been adopted by some journals and some universities or departments is that each author must sign a statement attesting to having read and approved the final manuscript and/or to having made a substantial contribution to the manuscript. Departments or other academic units might consider drawing up statements of criteria and procedures for certification of authorship appropriate to their own units.

    A person whose contribution merits co-authorship should be named even in oral presentations, especially when abstracts or transactions of the proceedings of a conference at which a paper is presented will be published. The entitlement to authorship should be the same whether or not a person is still at the original location of the research when a paper is submitted for publication.

    Just as one should include all those who have a right to be listed as co-authors, so one should avoid the listing of so-called honorary authors, who do not meet the criteria for authorship. Many published versions of standards for authorship suggest the use of alternative forms of acknowledgment within the paper for contributions that do not merit co-authorship, e.g., for technical assistance, for providing research materials or facilities, or for meeting some but not all of the stated criteria for authorship. To avoid misunderstandings and even recriminations, the inclusion and exclusion of names of research participants as co-authors should be made clear to all participants in the research prior to submission of the manuscript.

    b. Order of Authors

    Customs regarding the order in which co-authors’ names appear vary with the discipline. Whatever the discipline, it is important that all co-authors understand the basis for assigning an order of names and agree in advance to the assignments.

    A corresponding, or senior, author (usually the first or last of the listed names in a multi-authored manuscript) should be designated for every paper, who will be responsible for communicating with the publisher and for informing all co-authors of the status of review and publication and of any changes in the list of co-authors and who will ensure that all listed authors have approved the submitted version of the manuscript. This person has a greater responsibility than other co-authors to vouch for the integrity of the research report and should make every effort to understand and defend every element of the reported research, even though this may be challenging when the report depends on data generated by co-authors using technical methods in which the senior or corresponding author has no or limited expertise, or when the report depends on observations made by a co-author that cannot readily be replicated (e.g., a rare molecular interaction or an astronomical event that occurs for an instant, not to be repeated for many years).

  33. CC said

    A person’s name should not be listed as author without his or her knowledge, permission, and review of the final version of the manuscript, which includes the names of all co-authors.

    Back to the original question — here’s a pair of examples from my career of why this isn’t so simple:

    1) In grad school, I dusted off some data from a long-gone grad student, nailed down the loose pieces and turned the work into a paper. The grad student had disappeared into law school or something and couldn’t be found. (This was pre-AltaVista.) Should he be dropped from the paper?

    2) A decade later, I’ve left my postdoc with Enormously Important PI, and am raking in a stream of fifth authorships from (pre-publication) shared stem cell lines. The PI is on them too, but he doesn’t respond to email from anyone short of Elias Zerhouni or Nature editors. Not that he needs third-from-last authorships in obscure journals, but the authors of the paper are naturally reluctant to offend him. Should they assume that silence is refusal of authorship?

    Neither would be authors, but their contributions would be described in the Acknowledgments. Unless you would be comfortable forging their signatures on the letter of submission (if required by journal) or lying about their knowledge and approval of the manuscript submitted (signature attesting to this required of the submitting author). A paper trail of efforts to reach these individuals should mollify any complaints that might be raised at publication – though I wouldn’t view either as authorship material based on your description. -writedit

  34. drugmonkey said

    On CCs EI-PI, this seems a mere matter of education. As in, the system has never before required EI-PI to affirm those types of authorships, now it does. The barrage of submission-related emails (you do this, right?) just have to have at the top in big bold “You will be demoted from Author to an Acknowledgment if you do you respond to this email”. Heh.

    The long-gone grad student is more problematic and I think writedit you continue to be fixated on the “what should be”. It just doesn’t work this way as much as you would like it to. We have to condition on the recognition that the long-gone person’s work would have been perfectly worthy of authorship had s/he still been in the lab or reachable. Given that, what do you do?

    You seem too dismissive of a person receiving credit for the work they did just because they don’t happen to be “findable” 8 yrs later. Not to mention fixated on the fraud cases without recognizing in the VAST majority of cases there is no fraud! and relying on the text of journal requirements is a complete red herring- the value in the above discussion is not in bringing researchers to understand journal policy. we can read those. the problem is when the journal policies don’t match practice (they don’t), aren’t specific enough (even though this is intentional on their part) and what to do about this.

    itemized credit lists are the only solution for CC’s grad student problem. As per other of my comments, I disagree totally with this notion that every participant on the research needs to be able to sign off on the validity of all the parts of the paper. Furthermore, while I recognize the sentiment for author signatures on the submission form, this just doesn’t seem to solve anything to me. Intentional frauders are going to sign anyway. People who have been fooled by their colleagues aren’t miraculously going to detect this when signing their name. “Ownership” disputes within a lab? Well, I happen to think that for better or for worse the only workable thing is where the PI has the ultimate authority and given that, we don’t need a mechanism for disgruntled trainees to hold up submission. Disagreement over interpretation? see last comment.

    trainee generates data and makes it available to the PI. Done. This act is the certification that the data are not fraudulent and the trainee stands behind it. no further signature required. The PI as always has the responsibility to take the usual steps within lab to oversee (as far as s/he can) that the trainee is not faking. These two considerations permit the PI to “sign for the lab” as far as I am concerned.

    However, this runs into another peeve of mine which also needs fixing. The PI needs to take the oversight responsibility very seriously. The spate of “the long gone postdoc frauded me” ORI findings is suspicious and I’d like to see a little more detail in seeing just how far PIs went to ensure integrity and/or to ensure that they did not encourage a culture of “just give me the right result”.

  35. drugmonkey said

    ahh, “if you do not respond to this email” that is…

  36. PhysioProf said

    “We have to condition on the recognition that the long-gone person’s work would have been perfectly worthy of authorship had s/he still been in the lab or reachable. Given that, what do you do?”

    The US patent system has a good solution for this situation in the case of inventors on patents.

    The standard for inclusion as an inventor on a patent is an explicit legal one, not a customary one as in science paper authorship. If a person meets the legal standard for inventorship, she must be listed, and if she doesn’t, she must not. Any intentional failure to comply with the legal standard for inventorship renders the patent legally unenforceable, so there is a great incentive to get this correct.

    In the case of inventors who cannot be found or who refuse to provide their required signature on the patent filing, the other inventors sign an affidavit describing the situation and their attempts to obtain the signature of the other inventor. The other inventor is then listed as an inventor, regardless of her wishes.

    This mechanism can even be used by the legal owner of an invention to correctly list inventors in a situation where none of the inventors is findable or willing to sign the patent filing.

    Incidentally, the legal standard for patent inventorship in the US has nothing whatsoever to do with who physically created the invention, who wrote the patent, or any of the other stuff that we worry about with paper authorship. The only thing relevant to patent inventorship is who participated in the conception of the invention.

  37. bikemonkey said

    The only thing relevant to patent inventorship is who participated in the conception of the invention.

    Now then. This might need a little refinement don’t you think? I mean, it isn’t just enough to spout off some idea over coffee is it? And then, if you have some guy willing to swear you had the idea first you get the patent? and what about some reasonable expectation of result? I mean, can I patent the personal Moon transport, pass it on to my heirs and then someone gets rich eventually when tech catches up with sci-fi? come on.

  38. PhysioProf said

    BM, I love you, but I am not about to give you a detailed tutorial on patent law.

    Participation in conception of an invention is the only thing relevant to inventorship. Of course it requires refinement to unpack what “conception” means. But if you conceive of all of the elements of an invention and spout them off over coffee, and someone else actually implements the invention, then only you are an inventor by the legal definition in US patent law.

    With only 3 neurons firing right now, I am unable to string a coherent sentence together on this or anything else for another week, but in the meantime, I felt the need to clarify a bit here complements of our tech transfer equivalent office:

    “There are two separate steps required to establish inventorship. The inventor must perform the mental step of conception and the physical step of reduction to practice.

    Conception is defined as a formulation in the mind of an inventor of the complete means of solving a problem in such a way that a person of ordinary skill in the art could practice the invention without unduly extensive research or experimentation. The conception of an invention may be complete even though experimentation continues. That happens, for example, when the concept has been proven, but experimentation is still needed to optimize the invention or to make it commercially viable. On the other hand, if experimentation (especially experimental failure) reveals that the concept is faulty, the conception is not considered to be complete.

    By itself, conception is not sufficient to have an invention. The invention must be ‘reduced to practice,’ which can occur in two ways. In an actual reduction to practice, the invention is made, tested, and determined to work for its intended purpose. In a constructive reduction to practice, a patent application is filed which sufficiently describes the invention to allow a person of skill in the art to practice it. Filing a patent application is sometimes considered to be the equivalent of a reduction to practice, but in some fields, especially biotechnology, the inventor must demonstrate that the invention actually has biological activity.

    It is also important that the inventor demonstrates reasonable “diligence” in moving from conception to reduction to practice, to patent application. Diligence in the reduction to practice of an invention means that, as far as possible, generally steady, uninterrupted and constant work occurred following the conception of an invention.

    If an inventor conceives of an invention first but does not diligently work to reduce it to practice, another person who independently conceives of the invention at a later date and reduces it to practice will be granted the patent. If the party who first conceived of the invention does reduce it to practice, but after the second inventor has reduced it to practice, it will be necessary to determine the first party’s diligence in reducing the invention to practice. Very often, the resolution of disputes between rival inventors depends on the accuracy and completeness with which records have been kept.

    As is described in greater detail in this section, public disclosure of enabling information will immediately forfeit the ability to obtain a patent in most countries. [ie, no spouting off over coffee!]

    Public disclosure includes any of the following types of actions (note that this is an illustrative list, but is not an exhaustive list, of the ways that an invention can be disclosed publicly):

    Publishing an abstract or an article

    Giving a talk or a poster presentation at an “open” scientific meeting

    Sharing of a patent application with someone outside the University for comment or evaluation

    Talking with external parties about the invention without the use of a confidentiality agreement

    Transfer of scientific materials without the use of a materials transfer agreement

    Posting messages describing your invention on a website or to a public newsgroup

    Receipt of a government grant (not the submission of an application) triggers the release of an abstract and the possibility of access through the Freedom of Information Act.

    Student theses

    In the United’ States, patent rights are not lost unless the information that was made public was “enabling”. “Enabling” means that a person with the relevant scientific background could duplicate the invention by referring to the publicly disclosed information. This standard is very subjective and it should be noted that it is up to the patent examiner in the United States Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether the disclosure was “enabling”. In most other countries, an invention must be absolutely novel and any disclosure prior to the filing of a patent can make the invention unpatentable.

    In the United States, an inventor has one year from the date of public disclosure to file a patent application. In most other countries, there is no grace period and patent rights are lost immediately upon public disclosure.”

  39. PhysioProf said

    “There are two separate steps required to establish inventorship. The inventor must perform the mental step of conception and the physical step of reduction to practice.”

    This is totally wrong. Reduction to practice–while required for patentability–is emphatically *not* a requirement for inventorship. If one person conceives an invention and another reduces it to practice, *only* the former is an inventor.

    This section of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure explains this and cites relevant legal precedent.

    I can now understand your frustration with your tech transfer office.

  40. PhysioProf said

    You’d think a tech transfer office at a major university (I assume you are at a major U) would spend a couple hundred dollars to have a patent attorney review the legal assertions posted on their Web site. They were probably all proud of themelves for “saving money” by not doing so. Pathetic.

    One of the reasons I find it so painful to deal with those idiots is that I am a registered patent attorney. Listening to their moronic babble is like fingers on a blackboard to me.

    BTW, I think I requested this before, but I’ll try again. Any chance you could include a “Recent Comments” section on your front page, with links to recent comments? We do this over at DrugMonkey and it really helps keep conversations going in the comments.

  41. drugmonkey said

    cool. now I just learned a whole bunch about “inventors” and “patents”. didn’t know there could be a recognized “inventor” who didn’t have any patent rights…

    with respect to the comments, using the comment feed ( ) works pretty well, you could just bookmark that if writedit doesn’t like the “recent comments” thing…

    Thanks, DM. I use a canned blog display template, and this one doesn’t have the comments on the side. I liked the organization of other components & had thought this would be more of an informational than discussion blog. Won’t have the time to look into new templates any time soon either. – writedit

  42. PhysioProf said

    “didn’t know there could be a recognized ‘inventor’ who didn’t have any patent rights…”

    I think maybe you’re misunderstanding. The point is that there are independent legal determinations of (1) whether a patent should be granted for an invention and (2) whether a particular individual is an inventor of the invention.

    The former is the crux of the patent prosecution process whereby the applicant (which can be either the inventors or some other individual or corporation that owns the rights to the invention) must convince the patent office that the invention satisfies the legal standard for patenting. The latter almost always only is adjudicated, if ever, in a patent infringement lawsuit, where the defendant can try to prove as a defense that there was an intentional deception about who the correct inventors were during prosecution. (During patent prosecution, the patent office accepts the assertions of the applicant about inventorship unless there is something prima facie implausible.) Correct inventorship requires that only and all individuals who satisfy the legal standard for inventorship are listed on the patent as inventors. If she successfully proves the list of inventors is incorrect due to deceptive intent, then the patent will be “unenforceable”.

    In order for a patent right to be granted, an invention must be conceived (i.e., thought of) and reduced to practice (i.e., to oversimplify a bit, demonstrated to work). The individuals who are legally inventors of the invention are those people who participated in its conception, regardless of whether they participated in the reduction to practice. And those who participated in reduction to practice are not inventors unless they also participated in conception.

    The doofuses in Writedit’s tech transfer office apparently conflated the two distinct legal determinations of patentability and inventorship.

    If you are curious about how frigging complicated patent prosecution is, take a look at the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure:

    It’s like eleventy bajillion pages long. And it only covers the procedures in the patent office for prosecution. In order to become a registered patent agent/attorney, you have to master all that material and pass an all-day test. None of the patent infringement lawsuit stuff is covered in there.

  43. […] 22, 2007 at 12:21 am · Filed under Biomedical Research Ethics, Biomedical Writing/Editing on unauthorized authorship again, thanks to Marilyn’s post from the WSJ Health Blog. Anyone a member of the […]

  44. Marilyn said

    That article has now been published in the December issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, and they did not fix any of the errors. I don’t get it. Gupta et al., Prognostic Significance of Systolic Blood Pressure Increases in Men During Exercise Stress Testing, Am J Cardiol 2007;100:1609-1613. For example, from table 2, hazard ratios and confidence intervals for the following variables:

    age 0.96 (1.032-1.05)
    exercise capacity 1.41 (0.491-0.701)
    beta-blocker use 1 (1.022-1.443)
    heart rate response 0.68 (0.996-1.441)

    I’m not a statistician, but even I know that there is something wrong with those figures.

  45. […] $10,000 and have $50,000 go to my research account“), but since we’ve chatted about authorship and author accountability here already, I’ll stick with these […]

  46. Marilyn Mann said

    My letter and a reply were published in the May 15, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology. Mann M. Prognostic Significance of Systolic Blood Pressure During Exercise Stress Testing. Am J Cardiol 2008;101:1518. Gupta MP, Polena S. Reply. Am J Cardiol 2008;101:1518-1519.

    Marilyn Mann

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