What do the editors of medical journals talk about when they get together?
So far today, it’s been a fascinating but rather grim mixture of research that can’t be replicated, dodgy authorship, plagiarism and duplicate papers, and the general rottenness of citations as a measure of scientific impact.
We’re getting to listen and join in the editors’ discussion in Chicago in the year 2013 (7th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication). They assemble once every four years to chew over academic research on scientific publishing and debate ideas. This tradition was started by The Journal of American Medical Association, JAMA in Chicago in 1989. The name of the international congress still goes by its original pre-eminent concern, “peer review and biomedical publication.” But the academic basis for peer review is a small part of what’s discussed these days.
The style hasn’t changed in all these years, and that’s a good thing. As JAMA contributing deputy editor Drummond Rennie said, most medical conferences go on and on, “clanking rustily forward like a Viking funeral.” Multiple concurrent sessions render a shared ongoing discussion impossible.
The congress hurtled off to an energetic start with John Ioannidis, epidemiologist and agent provocateur author of “Why most published research findings are false.” He pointed to the very low rate of successful replication of genome-wide association studies (not much over 1%) as an example of very deep-seated problems in discovery science.
Half or more of replication studies are done by the authors of the original research: “It’s just the same authors trying to promote their own work.” Industry, he says, is becoming more concerned with replicability of research than most scientists are. Ioannidis cited a venture capital firm that now hires contract research organizations to validate scientific research before committing serious funds to a project.
Why is there so much un-reproducible research? Ioannidis points to the many sources of bias in research. Chavalarias and he trawled through more than 17 million articles in PubMed and found discussion of 235 different kinds of bias. There is so much bias, he said, that it makes one of his dreams – an encyclopedia of bias – a supremely daunting task.
What would help?
Ioannidis said we need to go back to considering what science is about: “If it is not just about having an interesting life or publishing papers, if it is about getting closer to the truth, then validation practices have to be at the core of what we do.” He suggested three ways forward:
- we have to get used to small genuine effects and not expect (and fall for) excessive claims.
- Secondly, we need to have – and use – research reporting standards.
- The third major strategy he advocates is registering research: protocols through to datasets.
Isuru Ranasinghe, in a team from Yale, looked at un-cited and poorly cited research in cardiovascular research. The proportion isn’t changing over time, but the overall quantity is rising rather dramatically as the biomedical literature grows: “1 in 4 journals have more than 90% of their content going un-cited or poorly cited five years down the track.” Altogether, about half of all articles don’t have an influence – if you judge it by citation.
Earlier, though, there was a lot of agreement from the group on the general lousiness of citation as a measure and influence on research. Tobias Opthof, presenting his work on journals pushing additional citation of their own papers, called citation impact factors “rotten” and “stupid”. Elizabeth Wager pulled no punches at the start of the day, reporting on analyses of overly prolific authors: surely research has to be about doing research, not just publishing a lot of articles. Someone who publishes too many papers, she argued, could be of even more concern than someone who does research, but publishes little. Incentives and expectations of authorship really no longer serve us well – if they ever did. [Bad research rising: The 7th Olympiad of research on biomedical publication]
One of the highlights of graduate school is publishing your very first papers in peer-reviewed journals. But what this novice scientist should not be fretting over is which colleagues should be included as authors and whether they are breaking any norms. The two things that should be avoided are including as authors, those that did not substantially contribute to the work, and excluding those that deserve authorship. There have been controversial instances where breaking these authorship rules caused uncomfortable situations. None of us would want someone writing a letter to a journal arguing that they deserved authorship. Nor is it comfortable to see someone squirming out of authorship, arguing they had minimal involvement when an accusation of fraud has been levelled against a paper. How to determine who should be an author can be difficult.
The cartoon above highlights the complexity and arbitrariness of authorship –and the perception that there are many instances of less than meritorious inclusion.
Journals do have their own guidelines, and many now require statements about contributions, but even these can be vague, still making it difficult to assess how much individuals actually contributed. We usually reiterate the criteria from Weltzin et al. (2006)[Weltzin, J. F., Belote, R. T., Williams, L. T., Keller, J. K. & Engel, E. C. (2006) Authorship in ecology: attribution, accountability, and responsibility. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4, 435-441]. There are four criteria to evaluate contribution:
- Origination of the idea for the study. This would include the motivation for the study, developing the hypotheses and coming up with a plan to test hypotheses.
- Running the experiment or data collection. This is where the blood, sweat and tears come in.
- Analysing the data. Basically moving from a database to results, including deciding on the best analyses, programming (or using software) and dealing with inevitable complexities, issues and problems.
- Writing the paper. Putting everything together can sometimes be the most difficult and external motivation can be important.
Basic requirements for authorship are that one of these steps was not possible without a key person, or else there was a person who significantly contributed to more than one of these. Such requirements mean that undergraduates assisting with data collection do not meet the threshold for authorship. Obviously these are idealized and different types of studies (e.g., theory or methodological papers) do not necessarily have all these activities. Regardless, authors must have contributed in a meaningful way to the production of this research and should be able to defend it. All authors need to sign off on the final product. [Navigating the complexities of authorship: Part 1 –inclusion]
While this system is idealized, there are still complexities making authorship decisions difficult or uncomfortable.
I recently came across an article “AUTHORSHIP: AN EVOLVING CONCEPT”.
It deals with the role and definition of authorship and the need to differentiate between an “author” and a “contributor”.
As most of us often write an article or a study to be published in a journal or a magazine, I thought it would be necessary to share it with everyone, as simply providing a link would have let it gone unnoticed.
Authorship confers credit and has important academic, social, and financial implications. Authorship also implies responsibility and accountability for published work.
Authorship: An Evolving Concept
By Steph Fairbairn, Leanne Kelly, Selina Mahar, and Reinier Prosée, editorial coordinators, Health Learning, Research & Practice, Wolters Kluwer
The role and definition of authorship in scientific and medical publishing has become increasingly complicated in recent years.
In most other forms of publishing – social sciences, humanities, legal – we assume that three, perhaps four, authors collaborated in the writing of the work. However, the nature of scientific research and reporting means that “authorship” no longer fits into a neat category.
To elaborate, a researcher who didn’t write the text of a paper can still be considered an author if her or she contributed substantially to the conception of the work, or the analysis of the data. Access to the Internet has made sharing information and collaborating on projects far simpler, and many authors can now work closely with colleagues in different countries.
With such a proliferation of collaboration and co-authorship in academic writing, it becomes harder to differentiate between a “contributor” and an “author.” Moreover, the pressures of funding applications, securing tenure at an academic institution, and the requirement to meet publication quotas all play their part in pushing contributors to demand a co-authorship accreditation.
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) formulated a set of guidelines to define authorship. [The New ICMJE Recommendations (August 2013). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.]
One of the most important changes in the document is the addition of a fourth criterion for authorship to emphasize each author’s responsibility to stand by the integrity of the entire work.
- Substantial contributions to: the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- Final approval of the version to be published; AND
- Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. [Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.]
Authorship involves not only credit for the work but also accountability. The addition of a fourth criterion was motivated by situations in which individual authors have responded to inquiries regarding scientific misconduct involving some aspect of the study or paper by denying responsibility (“I didn’t participate in that part of the study or in writing that part of the paper; ask someone else”). Each author of a paper needs to understand the full scope of the work, know which co-authors are responsible for specific contributions, and have confidence in co-authors’ ability and integrity. When questions arise regarding any aspect of a study or paper, the onus is on all authors to investigate and ensure resolution of the issue.
By accepting authorship of a paper, an author accepts that any problem related to that paper is, by definition, his or her problem. Given the specialized and myriad tasks frequently involved in research, most authors cannot participate directly in every aspect of the work. Still, ICMJE holds that each author remains accountable for the work as a whole by knowing who did what, by refraining from collaborations with co-authors whose integrity or quality of work raises concerns, and by helping to resolve questions or concerns if they arise. For example, a clinician who merits authorship in part through design of a study and care of its participating patients should have full confidence in the work of co-authors with expertise in biostatistics, and must agree as a condition of authorship to ensure resolution of questions regarding the analysis should they arise. This new criterion better balances credit with responsibility, and establishes the expectation that editors may engage all authors in helping to determine the integrity of the work.
The authorship criteria are not intended for use as a means to disqualify colleagues from authorship who otherwise meet authorship criteria by denying them the opportunity to meet criterion #s 2 or 3. Therefore all individuals who meet the first criterion should have the opportunity to participate in the review, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript. As always the decision about who should be an author on a given article is the responsibility of the authors and not the editors of the journal to which the work has been submitted.
Contributors who meet fewer than all 4 of the above criteria for authorship should not be listed as authors, but they should be acknowledged. Examples of activities that alone (without other contributions) do not qualify a contributor for authorship are
- acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support;
- and writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading.
Those whose contributions do not justify authorship may be acknowledged individually or together as a group under a single heading (e.g. “Clinical Investigators” or “Participating Investigators”), and their contributions should be specified (e.g., “served as scientific advisors,” “critically reviewed the study proposal,” “collected data,” “provided and cared for study patients”, “participated in writing or technical editing of the manuscript”).
Some researchers have argued that these guidelines are unfairly strict, but they were created to safeguard the idea of authorship to signify scientific integrity. Readers do not want a meaningless list of names – they want to know who is chiefly responsible.[Scott T. Changing authorship system might be counterproductive. BMJ 1997; p. 744]
In this way, adhering to the ICMJE definition ensures that only those who are “chiefly responsible” are recognized and held accountable. Some authors, however, take issue with the ICMJE guidelines not just because they require authors to be involved in every stage of the manuscript’s production, but because they wish to acknowledge the important contribution of their colleagues. In their editorial “The Men Who Stare at Science,” Goetze and Reinfeld argue that senior scientists should “grab the pen (keyboard) more often” as writing “is essential to ones results and to harbour new ideas.” [Goetze, Jens P.; Rehfeld, Jens F. The men who stare at science. Cardiovascular Endocrinology 2015; p. Published ahead of print.]
Taking a broad look at the history of authorship, even going back to the classical period, you can see how ideas of authorship have only recently become intertwined with ideas of ownership and uniqueness (see The origins of our current understanding of authorship). In Laws, Plato argues that we should “eliminate everything we mean by the word ownership,” which includes intellectual property.Plato rejected the notion of uniqueness and believed that new knowledge is something that we relearn. [Hamilton E, and Cairns H (Translators). Plato. The Collected Dialogues: Including the Letters. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 1961.]
Not every Classical author shared this belief, however, and some took more credit for their work. Herodotus, for example, starts his famous Histories by mentioning that “Herodotus, from Halicarnassus, here displays his enquiries.” [Holland T (Translator). Herodotus: The Histories. London: Penguin Classics; 2013.]
Herodotus is keen to outline clear rules regarding the correct citation of sources, but in the Classical period plagiarism was common as authors and orators shared the same sources and borrowed from one another.
[Anderson J. Plagiarism, Copyright Violation and Other Thefts of Intellectual Property: An Annotated Bibliography with a Lengthy Introduction. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers; 1998.]
During the Renaissance, the idea of an author’s ownership of a text came into being, particularly with the Statute of Anne (1710), which conferred ownership to authors rather than publishers; it is no surprise that this development coincided with the rise of the printing press. This early form of copyright did not apply to content, [Velagic Z, Hasenay D. Understanding textual authorship in the digital environment: lessons from historical perspectives. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark; 2013]
but it was an important step toward the idea of intellectual property developed in the Romantic period. The Romantic Movement emphasized the importance of the individual, which led to intellectual and creative copyright laws being consolidated during the 19th century.
[Velagic Z, Hasenay D. Understanding textual authorship in the digital environment: lessons from historical perspectives. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark; 2013]
It wasn’t until postmodernist critiques of literary theory, in the middle of the 20th century, that ideas of individualism were challenged. In particular, Roland Barthes rejected the Romantic idea of individualism and ownership. In Barthes’ now infamous essay “The Death of the Author” (1967), he argued that authorial intention should be separated from the text. Barthes decentred the author, going against the traditional theory that an author’s history and experience could be used to enrich our understanding of his or her work.
Current author trends
The debate over authorship and contributorship was reignited in March 2015, when G3: Genes|Genomics|Genetics published a paper on the genomics of the fruit fly with over 1,000 listed authors.
[Leung, W. et al. Drosophila Muller F Elements Maintain a Distinct Set of Genomic Properties Over 40 Million Years of Evolution. G3: Genes|Genomics|Genetics. 2015.]
According to Barthes’ theory, if the “author” is simply representative of his or her institution, or academic background, why not include all those directly involved in its creation?
[Woolston, C. Fruit-fly paper has 1,000 authors. Nature. 2015.]
Each undergraduate student contributed to the analysis of data, which is one of the major tenants of authorship according to the ICMJE. If we understand the author as the progenitor of this article, then logic follows that each person listed as a co-author contributed to the authorship of the paper, however small. To take this one step further, the identity of each co-author eventually becomes subsumed into the first author when a paper is cited as W. Leung et al, and the number of contributors is incidental because of how papers are traditionally cited with the use of “et al.”
Throughout history, writing has commonly been regarded as an individual act. People like to associate one paper, or idea, with one name. Examples of this include Edward Jenner and the production of the first vaccines, Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, and Marie Curie and the development of radiotherapy. In recent years, however, as scientific papers are increasingly authored through collaborative efforts rather than individuals, this has opened up the dilemma of first authorship. In 1996 it was suggested that the tradition of citing authors should be restructured to parallel film credits and create a hierarchy of authorship, contributors, and acknowledgements.
[Godlee F; Definition of “authorship” may be changed; BMJ. 1996 Jun 15;312(7045):1501-2.]
This concept would not redefine authorship but instead recognize important contributions in another way. While this idea is attractive, it doesn’t solve the problem of who to list as an author and who to list as a contributor.
One potential solution was recently proposed by BioMed Central to implement
as a method of showing the exact contribution each author made to a paper. [BioMed Central first publisher to implement Author Contributorship Badges, a new system which improves how publishers credit scientists. BioMed Central. 2015]
BioMed Central chose to roll this scheme out in their open-access, open-data journal, GigaScience. All papers published from October 1, 2015, will include the badge system (see First paper published by BioMed Science with Author Contributorship Badges). While authors are still listed in the traditional format, a link to the “Open Badges” appears on the website, and ten potential roles in the creation of an article are represented by ten badges, such as “Data Curation,” “Methodology,” and “Writing Review.”
BioMed Central Implements Author Contributorship Badges
Each badge has a list of authors who contributed to that specific role, and an author can be listed under more than one role. Amye Kenall, associate publisher at BioMed Central, states: “Author Contributorship Badges enable people and organisations to capture the types of skills, knowledge and behaviours that we value, but often find difficult to recognise with traditional credentials.”
The badge system embraces the ICMJE definition of authorship in a refreshing format. Each point in the ICMJE definition has at least one badge. Should it prove successful, the badge system could be a significant turning point in how authors and publishers define authorship.
Svitin, A., Malov, S., Cherkasov, N., Geerts, P., Rotkevich, M., Dobrynin, P., & … O’Brien, S. J. (2014). GWATCH: a web platform for automated gene association discovery analysis.Gigascience, 318. doi:10.1186/2047-217X-3-18
The future of authorship
One of the most significant changes in the publishing industry has been the shift toward digital media and the steady decline of print. Authors are no longer being asked to write a finite article for a journal. For example, when an author contributes an article to a journal, the article will be published in the print and digital versions, shared on social media, and potentially used in promotional material.
This notion of multiple destinations is even more evident when considering blogs. When an author writes a blog, he or she is writing with the knowledge that the work can be shared, critiqued, and linked in numerous ways, making it not just a blog post or a text but part of a huge textual network.
A text is no longer a finished article;
it is an
a fluid movement with a number of versions and stages.
[Fitzpatrick, K; The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality; Culture Machine; 2011, Vol 12, http://www.culturemachine.net]
It lives under the assumption that any text, online-only or complimentary to a print component, should constantly be changing. When putting a text on the Internet, particularly in blog form, the text is immediately visible for public consumption and critique. A blog creates a forum for all views, and the result combines numerous views on one topic, while adding commentary to create a new text.
The fluid nature of blogs and other online formats has introduced the idea of “versioning.”
This is traditionally defined as “the creation and management of multiple releases of a product, all of which have the same general function but are improved, upgraded, or customized.”
[Versioning Definition. 2007. http://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/definition/versioning%5D
The same, or an alternate, author takes an article and makes changes. He or she adds to it, improving it and creating a timelier and more informative piece; more authors can also be added to the text.
Versioning allows readers to see a scientific process not just through the words of a text, but through the progression of the text itself. With this change of process, the act of writing becomes less about the act itself, or the completion of a piece of work, and more about development and discovery. This, in turn, could mean that authors will no longer be defined by specific works, but by one work as a whole.
However, the prospect of a more fluid style of writing and authorship will inevitably lead to a number of potential problems, namely plagiarism. The traditional notion of plagiarism is that all those involved in the writing of a paper are named as authors, giving due credit for anything they may have borrowed or used in their text. With a more fluid, ever-evolving text, plagiarism (whether intentional or unintentional) is inevitable and perhaps unavoidable. The idea of a constantly reworked text also raises a number of questions about the validity of the work and the contributions of different authors –
are the authors involved sufficiently in the work to be considered as such?
Could they be considered as “curators” instead?
Is the work more about quantity than quality?
Who is chosen as the “first author” after so many changes to a paper?
How will original authors feel about their works being up for adaptation and public consumption?
Most importantly, with articles constantly changing, how will publishers and readers assure their legitimacy?
As we move further into the digital age, these questions require discussion in order to redefine the concept of authorship. In many ways, it seems as though we are trying to embrace the new freedoms that digital media allows while maintaining strong traditions in print and also trying to identify the most modern definition of authorship. Although the “Author Contributorship Badges” offer an appealing solution it is, after-all, online-only. What is certain is the need for the academic and publishing communities to continue their discussion on the definition of authorship, ensuring clarity and flexibility in an increasingly digital age. In the meantime, the ICMJE guidelines provide a definition of authorship that guarantees recognition, both by authors and for authors. In time, they will surely be modified to reflect digital trends, but for now, they clearly delineate what it means to be an author.
Reference: AUTHORSHIP: AN EVOLVING CONCEPT Authors
Steph Fairbairn, Leanne Kelly, Selina Mahar, and Reinier Prosée
Editorial coordinators, Health Learning, Research & Practice | Wolters Kluwer http://wkauthorservices.editage.com/resources/author-resource-review/Nov-2015.html?cid=MR-Other-AN-Authorship-AuthorNewsletter-NoPub-NoPromo