Research integrity

Attribution of authorship

1) OSR abides by the guidelines set forth by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE, 2018). The following general statement (McNutt et al., 2017) summarizes the basic principles:

“Each author is expected to have made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; or the creation of new software used in the work; or have drafted the work or substantively revised it; AND has approved the submitted version (and any substantially modified version that involves the author’s contribution to the study); AND agrees to be personally accountable for the author’s OWN contributions and for ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and documented in the literature.”

The above also indicates that to omit authors who contributed materially to the work (“orphan” or “ghost” authors) is considered to be detrimental to research and the research community, and as such is at the very least a detrimental research practice (DRP) but depending on the seriousness and case scenario, may also amount to RM. Therefore, proper recognition must be given when due, regardless of personal conflicts.

2) The corresponding author (CA) of a scholarly manuscript/paper is defined as the person to whom all correspondence pertaining to the work described or the publication process is to be addressed, including after publication, AND who takes responsibility to represent all the authors to the journal and the community AND for the correctness of all the information. A CA by no means has to be the most senior author. However, it is the CA who takes responsibility for underwriting the information presented in a manuscript, even if the most senior scientist listed as author on the paper may well have had responsibility for supervising the project and (some of) the other authors, including even the CA on occasion at the institutional level: e.g. the CA is a senior post-doc and the most senior author is a group/project leader. It should be noted that in some cases designation of a CA other than the group leader may raise issues on responsibility for data integrity and storage. Scholarly journal editors will usually engage in correspondence on a specific manuscript only with the CA, unless the other authors or third parties raise specific issues which may compromise the integrity of the data reported and may thus need to be further contacted.

3) The corresponding authorship of a scholarly paper therefore carries great honour but also great responsibilities. Among the additional obligations of the CA are (McNutt et al., 2017):

  • To ensure that all listed authors have approved the manuscript before submission or re-submission to a journal and that all authors receive the submission and all substantive correspondence with editors, as well as the full reviewer evaluations and to allow co-authors a reasonable timeframe to re-check revised manuscripts.
  • To verify that all data, materials (including reagents) and source code, including those developed or provided by other authors, comply with the transparency and reproducibility standards of both the field and journal. This responsibility includes but is not limited to ensuring that original data/materials/code upon which the submission is based are preserved and retrievable for reanalysis (see OSR document on data storage), that the data/materials/code presentation accurately reflects the original, and minimizing obstacles to the sharing of data/materials/code described in the work. The CA should also ensure that the entire author group is fully aware of, and in compliance with best practices.
  • To ensure that the ICMJE and OSR guidelines (the present document) for authorship are applied and that all authors have approved the author list and contribution description.
  • To indicate and justify whether any authors on earlier versions have been removed or new authors added, and to obtain appropriate consent from all authors, including those removed2.

The CA may also be subject to other requirements depending on the nature of the study and the policy of the journal to which the manuscript is being submitted.

4) The following conditions do not qualify, per se, for authorship

  • "guest/gift/honorary” authorship for any reason;
  • fundraising responsibilities;
  • providing rooms, funds/equipment, personnel or other resources;
  • training/instructing co-authors in the use of established methods;
  • reading the manuscript without being involved in shaping its content;
  • managing the institution or organisational unit in which the publication was created. 

The above exclusions are especially cogent for key authorship positions i.e. first and CA and also the last authorship if different from the CA. As typical examples, being a Head Physician/Division Director or generally a ”senior” figure, does not automatically confer any right to any form of authorship without a significant contribution as mentioned above (ICMJE, 2018; McNutt et al., 2017)

OSR investigators should not presume/expect or even worse, impose authorship based on the above conditions alone. Conversely, OSR investigators are expected to refuse authorship if offered under the same conditions. See also item 5 below.

5) Recognition of at least the key authorships, i.e. first and corresponding authorship(s) should be discussed and ideally decided upon by the senior investigator/group leader very early in the research project. Indeed, this process should accompany the natural process of task assignment. It is acknowledged that the physiological evolution and the experimental requirements of any research project are in constant flux and that therefore authorships and especially co-authorships (and acknowledgments), are subject to change, typically by addition, including during post-submission revision of manuscripts, and can be properly assessed at latter stages of project development or even upon manuscript drafting. However, for the sake of transparency, discussions on authorship should occur as early as possible and as frequently as necessary to communicate such changes. The designated CA should be rigorously consistent across different manuscripts and projects in applying their own judgment and criteria in the establishment of authorship.

6) Accepting to be named as a co-author implies accepting to share responsibility in ensuring that the publication meets scientific requirements. OSR does not endorse the view that each author should be held responsible for the entire content of a manuscript. However, in addition to being responsible for the correctness of their own contributions, co-authors have a duty to ensure that these contributions are incorporated into the publication in a scientifically sound way. Being a co-author therefore always entails active participation and clear responsibilities.

7) Regardless of whether the journal to which a manuscript is being submitted requests the listing and definition of each authors’ contributions, the CA should ideally create and store an authorship agreement where the source data is also located, indicating each author's level of contribution to the manuscript, together with acceptance emails or other evidence of agreement among authors, prior to submission. Investigators may refer to available resources on best practice in reporting author contributions (Clarke, 2009). This applies also to multi-institute collaborations.

8) OSR scientists named as co-authors of a publication without their permission (“conscripted” authorship) are expected to make their opposition expressly clear to the primary responsibility holder and where this is not possible or does not lead to appropriate action, to the editor of the journal or publisher affected. OSR recognises that unfortunately, action may be possible only after publication, as the conscripted author might not have prior knowledge of their involvement. Similarly, where the basic requirements for authorship are met, it is the right and duty of a collaborating scientist to demand appropriate recognition as a co-author from the primary responsibility holder and where this is not possible or does not lead to appropriate action, from the editor of the journal or publisher affected. Again, it is recognised that unfortunately, such action may be possible only after publication when the potential co-author becomes aware of the omission.

9) OSR strongly encourages author adoption of ORCID (ORCID, 2017), to reduce name confusion and ensure appropriate attribution of publications and citations to the correct authors. Indeed, many reputable publishers, major journals and funding agencies are already requiring ORCIDs for at least CAs as useful tool against author identity theft.

10) In the event that conflicts arising from the alleged breach of any of the above norms cannot be resolved by direct mediation within the research group and with the CA, it is strongly advised that OSR RIO is contacted for counsel and mediation before escalating to the journal/publisher level. This is mandatory should the conflicts occur between OSR scientists, and desirable if the conflict includes non OSR investigators.

2 Most reputable scholarly journals require such proof as consent in case of author changes during the manuscript evaluation and publication process