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  Home > Ethics > Curriculum > Authorship
Teaching Ethics for Research, Scholarship, & Practice


Marty Dworkin

Learning Objectives

University Policies and Procedures

Curriculum Overview

Case Studies

Information Resources



Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the criteria that should apply when determining authorship, acknowledgements, the order of authors, and the size of the publishable unit.
  2. Given brief descriptions of cases involving authorship, the learner will distinguish better and worse action choices and justification for the problems presented.



University Policies and Procedures



Curriculum Overview


  • Authorship is at the heart of the scientific process.
  • Data must be reported honestly.
  • Authors must accept intellectual as well as ethical responsibility for their publications.
  • The listing and order of authors must reflect the proper credit for the work.
  • Multiple authorship is not a problem; irresponsible authorship is.


Topics for Discussion

  1. The history of publication and authorship.
    • Fye, W. B., 1990.
  2. Who should be an author?
    • Individuals who supply the funding?
    • Individuals who supply the laboratory space?
    • Individuals who supply the patients?
    • Individuals who analyze the samples, statistically evaluate the data, type the paper?
    • Is it necessary for an author to participate in the writing of the paper? Checking the manuscript?
    • Are all the above criteria irrelevant when there are 50 authors on a paper?
      • Caelleigh, A. S., 1991; Friedman, P. J., 1993; Glass, R. M., 1992; Lundberg, G. D. and Flanagin, A., 1989; Huth, E. J., 1986.
        Recommendations as to authorship by various professional organizations: see articles 13-18.
  3. What should be the order of the authors?
    • How to determine who is first author? Last author?
      Huth, E. J., 1986; Riesenberg, D. and Lundberg, G. D., 1990, 1991.
  4. Pressure to publish.
    • "Salami" publishing or, the "Least Publishable Unit" (LPU).
      Angell, M., 1986; McCarthy, P., 1993.
  5. Electronic publishing.
    • Problems, opportunities and challenges
      Lyman, P., 1996.
    • National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Research:

The following are from "Teaching the responsible conduct of research through a case study approach; A handbook for instructors". Association of American Medical Colleges, 1994.



Case Studies

From "Teaching the responsible conduct of research through a case study approach; A handbook for instructors". Association of American Medical Colleges, 1994. Cases/Questions: B2, B3, B4.


Case B2: Fragmented Publication

Esther Brezinska is an assistant professor at a medical school where she has been employed in a tenure-track appointment since completing a productive postdoctoral research fellowship five years ago. Two years ago, she was awarded her first investigator-initiated grant from the National Institutes of Health and is now anticipating preparation of a competitive renewal application for submission next year. Nest year, she also will be evaluated for promotion to associate professor and award of tenure.

Dr. Brezinska has developed a successful technique for culturing prostatic epithelial cells. Her NIH grant was awarded on the basis of that success and the promise that the technique holds for testing a variety of growth promoting and inhibitory substances. Her work has important implications for the diagnosis and treatment of prostatic cancer.

At this juncture, Dr. Brezinska has tested two hormones and two growth factors with positive and potentially exciting results. Experiments utilizing five more substances are in various stages of progress, and she has plans to test at least five additional agents. She believes that it is time to publish these results beyond the abstracts and poster presentations that she has regularly presented at meetings as the work progressed. Now she faces a dilemma.

The most prestigious journal in her field requests authors "not to separate fragments of a study into individual reports, but rather to strive for full development of a topic." On the other hand, she suspects that the medical school’s promotion committee emphasizes numbers of publications over the quality of content when reviewing bibliographies of candidates for tenure. She wonders if the NIH study section that will review her renewal application will be similarly disposed. It would be easy to write up the results of the first four experiments as a single report, since they are closely related, but it might be of strategic value to have four separate references in her curriculum vitae.


  1. What should be Dr. Brezinska’s primary considerations as she evaluates how to publish her research findings in the scientific literature?
  2. If she opts for publishing a few comprehensive reports, rather than a greater number of less substantive papers, by what mechanism can her various evaluators know that she is attempting to make a more scholarly contribution?
  3. If Dr. Brezinska were at your institution, what kind of advice would she likely get from her department chair or mentor concerning her dilemma?
  4. A Japanese scientist whom she knew as a postdoctoral fellow has offered to translate Dr. Brezinska’s publications into Japanese and to submit them to a Japanese language journal that appears to be anxious to publish her work. Dr. Brezinska rationalizes that this will increase readership of her work in Japan, enhance her international reputation, and at the same time provide additional titles (in Japanese) in her curriculum vitae. Would she violate any fundamental principles in doing so?
  5. Dr. Gordon Ryan, an assistant professor in the Department of Urology, has been invaluable in providing prostatic cells for Dr. Brezinska’s studies. She, in turn, has helped him with the technicalities of immunocytochemical procedures in his own investigations. Dr. Ryan suggests that if each of them lists the other as a co-author in their respective publications, both of their prospects for promotion might be enhanced. Dr. Brezinska suspects that a refusal to engage in this practice might jeopardize chances for Dr. Ryan’s future cooperation. How can she resolve this issue productively?


Case B3: Criteria for Authorship and Attribution

Bob Powell, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry, has just completed a manuscript detailing the results from the first project in which he has taken a leading role. The focus of his project has been to discern the ways in which humans metabolize sulfites, a class of chemicals commonly used to preserve wines and dried fruits. Although he had developed the rough outlines of the project on his own, he owes much to individuals both inside and outside his lab. The assistance he received from others includes the following:

A colleague at another university, a toxicologist specializing in food additives, shared with Bob his previous work on the in vivo activity of sulfites, information that allowed Bob to choose the ideal animal model for the experiment--the Abyssinian field mouse.

A friend of his, who happened to be a wildlife specialist, provided Bob with much advice on rearing and maintaining a colony of Abyssinian field mice such that he would have a stable pool of animal subjects.

A highly experienced technician in the lab gave Bob advice on modifying an assay he had been using, which finally allowed him to measure successfully sulfite metabolites in mouse urine. This technician also assisted in writing up the methods section of the paper.

The number of assays that Bob had to conduct was quite sizable and more than he could manage on his own, given other demands of the project. Thus, an undergraduate college student collected most of the urine samples and conducted the assays yielding the data.

Finally, a senior researcher in a neighboring lab who took an interest in Bob’s career offered to review the initial drafts of Bob’s paper. By the end of the writing process, this researcher had helped Bob outline the paper, suggested a few additional experiments that strengthened the paper’s conclusions, and made a number of editing changes in the penultimate draft that enhanced the paper’s clarity.


  1. What kind of attribution should be given to each of these individuals who contributed in one way or another to Bob’s project? For example, who should be recognized as an author and who should receive an acknowledgment in the paper? Who does not merit formal recognition?
    What criteria should be applied when determining whether to list someone as an author? to note someone’s contributions in the acknowledgments?
  2. What are the responsibilities of authors in representing the contributions of others?
  3. At what point in the process of conducting and reporting on one’s research should decisions concerning authorship and acknowledgments be made?
  4. Are decisions concerning attribution entirely Bob’s responsibility? Should he consult with others? Why or why not?


Case B4: Courtesy Authorship

Dr. Jonathan Perry, a tenured professor, used his sabbatical to visit the laboratory of Dr. Brian Chandler, a widely published and respected senior scientist. During his stay in Dr. Chandler's lab, Dr. Perry hoped to learn certain techniques of molecular biology that he would employ in his own research. To afford Dr. Perry this opportunity, Dr. Chandler assigned him a leading role in a new project that the lab was undertaking. After seven months, laboratory work on the project was completed, and Dr. Perry returned to his own institution to begin work on a paper to report the final results. Ultimately, many drafts of the paper were faxed back and forth between laboratories until Dr. Perry received the penultimate version from Dr. Chandler’s lab. On this version, a new name, J. B. Martin, Ph.D., appeared among the authors listed. Dr. Perry had never met Dr. Martin, never worked with him on any technical aspect of the project, and had never heard his name or ideas mentioned in the laboratory meetings in which the project was planned or the results discussed.

Dr. Perry called Dr. Chandler and questioned the addition of Dr. Martin as an author on the manuscript. Dr. Chandler stated that, due to prior collaborations, it was a longstanding policy to include Dr. Martin on all publications coming out of Dr. Chandler’s laboratory. Dr. Martin’s laboratory had a reciprocal agreement, he added. Dr. Perry stated that he did not feel that Dr. Martin was a qualified author on this particular paper since he had not made a significant contribution to the work being published. Dr. Chandler replied that Dr. Perry did not have the right to question the policy of a laboratory in which he had worked as an invited guest. Dr. Perry maintained his position that Dr. Martin did not belong as an author on the paper and further stated that if Dr. Chandler insisted on including Dr. Martin’s name, then, as first author, Dr. Perry would not allow the paper to be submitted. Dr. Chandler responded, "Well, you can withdraw your name, but the work was done here in my laboratory and we plan to submit the paper for publication."


  1. What do you think of the reciprocal agreement between Dr. Martin’s and Dr. Chandler’s laboratories? Were Dr. Perry’s concerns legitimate?
  2. Dr. Perry was a tenured professor at a different institution from Dr. Chandler’s. Under these circumstances it may have been relatively easy for him to voice his concerns to Dr. Chandler. What difficulties might a postdoctoral or graduate student in Dr. Chandler’s lab have in handling this situation? How might those difficulties be overcome?
  3. The results of this project are significant and provide a novel insight into the field that could prove beneficial to many investigators in the area. Therefore, should Dr. Perry compromise with Dr. Chandler so that the paper can be promptly published? Which consideration--authorship or publication--is more important in the advancement of science?
  4. What do you think of Dr. Chandler’s statement in the concluding sentence of the case? Would it be appropriate for Dr. Chandler to proceed with publishing the paper? What are Dr. Perry’s and Dr. Chandler’s rights with respect to the data and the publication of the data?
  5. Assume that Dr. Martin in fact reviewed and commented on all drafts of the paper in question. Could this contribution to the effort be significant enough to merit authorship?



Information Resources

Web Sites

The following is the URL for the Regents’ policy at the University of Minnesota regarding "Openness in Research."



Angell, M. "Publish or Perish: A Proposal." Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 104, No. 2 (February 1986), pp. 261-262.
Concerned about the way in which pressures to publish have created a diluted and unwieldy literature, the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine proposes limiting the number of papers considered for promotion or funding. This, she reasons, would curtail attempts to pad bibliographies and leave the scientific enterprise with a leaner and more substantive literature.

Bailar, J. C., and F. Mosteller. "Guidelines for Statistical Reporting in Articles for Medical Journals." Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 108, No. 2 (February 1988), pp. 266-273.
This article accompanies the "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" (see scientific and professional society reports/guidelines below). It is an amplification of the statistical reporting guidelines and identifies 15 principles to follow in conducting and reporting on statistical analyses of one’s work. This article is easy to follow and may prove particularly useful for trainees who are not comfortable with the statistical aspects of their work.

Broad, W. J. The publishing game; getting more for less. Science 211:1137-1139, 1981.

Caelleigh, A. S. "Credit and Responsibility in Authorship." (Editorial) Academic Medicine, Vol. 66, No. 11 (November 1991), pp. 676-677.
The editor of Academic Medicine discusses the ethical problems inherent in according "honorary" authorship. She closes by encouraging efforts by journal editors and scientists to develop criteria and standards of authorship.

Friedman, P. J. "Standards for Authorship and Publication in Academic Radiology." Radiology, Vol. 189, No. 1 (October 1993), pp. 33-34.
The author reports on publication standards adopted by the Association of University Radiologists in May 1993. The standards are largely consistent with those articulated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and include (1) granting authorship only to individuals making intellectual contributions to the work, (2) citing primary sources of referenced ideas and information, (3) avoiding redundant and fragmented publication, and (4) taking the initiative to correct or to retract incorrect published findings.

Fye, W. B. "Medical Authorship: Traditions, Trends, and Tribulations." Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 113, No. 4 (August 15, 1990), pp. 317-325.
The author explores the history of authorship practices in the medical sciences, describing how the historically recent emphasis on quantity of publication as a criterion for promotion has led to trivial, fragmented, and repetitive papers. The problems of multiple authorships, duplicative publication, and rapid publication are also explored.

Glass, R. M. "New Information for Authors and Readers: Group Authorship, Acknowledgments, and Rejected Manuscripts." Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 268, No. 1 (July 1992), p. 99.
In this editorial, JAMA clarifies its standards with regard to group authorship, acknowledgment, and rejected manuscripts. All authors must sign a statement affirming that they have participated substantially in the conception and design of the work and the analysis of the data. Individuals making important technical contributions may be acknowledged by name, but only with their permission. The policy concerning rejected manuscripts was revised on January 6, 1993. Originally, JAMA stated that peer reviewers would be asked to destroy rejected manuscripts, but this was revised to have reviewers return manuscripts to JAMA ’s editorial staff.

Huth, E. J. "Guidelines on Authorship of Medical Papers." Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 104, N. 2 (February 1986), pp. 269-274.
Building on guidelines set forth by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Dr. Huth lays out five very explicit principles to apply in determining who merits authorship on a paper. Participation limited to the collection of data or the provision of advice is not a contribution that of itself merits authorship, Dr. Huth points out. These principles are further examined in the context of specific types of publications (such as "review articles," "articles reporting clinical, epidemiologic, or laboratory research," and "articles reporting a case-series analysis"). Collective authorships and the sequence of authors are also discussed.

Lundberg, G. D., and A. Flanagin. "New Requirements for Authors: Signed Statements of Authorship Responsibility and Financial Disclosure." Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 262, No. 14 (October 1989), pp. 203-2005.
In this statement, one of the leading medical journals announces that (1) authors must sign a statement confirming that they meet or will meet five responsibilities laid out in the editorial, and (2) authors must identify in writing any financial interests they may have in the substance of the manuscript they have submitted.

McCarthy, P. "The Paper Mill." The New Physician, Vol. 42, No. 7 (October 1993), pp. 25-27.
The author gives an overview of two troublesome publication practices that add to the size but no to the quality of the scientific literature: (1) repetitive publication of a single work and (2) "salami" publishing (publishing small segments of a study in separate articles, rather than a single article on the entire breadth of the study). The legal and ethical problems presented by these practices, and the means by which journals and libraries have dealt with them, are discussed.

Relman, A. S. "New Information for Authors and Readers." New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 56, No. 1 (July 5, 1990), pp. _____.
In this notice, Dr. Relman, editor of the journal, specifies requirements that authors must meet in submitting abstracts and articles, many of which deal with the basic responsibilities of authorship and the avoidance of financial conflicts of interest.

Relman, A. S., "Publishing Biomedical Research: Roles and Responsibilities." Hastings Center Report, Vol. 20, No. 3 (May/June 1990), pp. 23-27.
Dr. Relman reviews the responsibilities and obligations of the three major participants in the publication process: authors, reviewers, and editors. Dr. Relman notes that authors ’ obligations, apart from being accurate and honest, include being economical in expression, generously acknowledging the works of others, and avoiding premature and unseemly publicity about their work.

Riesenberg, D., and G. D. Lundberg. "The Order of Authorship: Who’s on First?" Journal of the American Medical Association, 264, No. 14 (October 1990, p. 1857. Also [Letters] Vol. 265, No. 7 (February 1991), p. 865.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.:American Psychological Association; 1983:20-21.

Ethical conduct in authorship and publication. IN: CBE Style Manual Committee. CBE Style Manual. A Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers in the Biological Sciences. 5th ed. Bethesda, Maryland: Council of Biology Editors:1983:1-6.

American Chemical Soc. ACS ethical guidelines to publication of chemical research. IN: The ACS Style Guide, Wash., D.C. Am. Chem. Soc. 1986;217-222.

Editorial consensus on authorship and other matters. Lancet 1985: 2:595.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Guidelines on authorship. Br. Med. J. 1985; 291; 722.

Huth,E. J. Standards on authors’ responsibilities. (Editorial) Ann. Int. Med. 1985; 103:797.

Lyman, P. 1996. What is a digital library? Technology, intellectual property, and the public interest. pp. 1-33. in Books, Bricks, and Bytes. Daedalus, 125 (#4).

The editors of JAMA propose ideas for dealing with the thorny question of the order in which authors should be listed on a manuscript and the degree of contribution implied by the positioning of ones name. First and foremost all authors must substantially contribute to the work and writing and accept responsibility for the contents of the written work. The individual contributing most to the work should be listed first, while those contributing in a manner not consonant with authorship may be acknowledged. Comments were invited by the editors and may be found in the letters that are referenced above.


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