Authorship, Publication and Peer Review
Publish or perish. Few pressures in academic life equal the pressure to publish. Key ethical issues surrounding the submission and review of manuscripts and grant proposals include: how to appropriately acknowledge contributions on joint projects, what is expected of authors, and what is expected of reviewers.
Whose Names Should be on the Paper?
As collaboration grows in all areas of academia, questions concerning who should be named as an author for a journal article, conference presentation, or grant proposal become more complex. The basic principle that authors should make meaningful intellectual contributions to a project is sound, but it can sometimes be difficult to apply, because of the many different possible roles in a project. To address these issues, some journals have begun listing the areas of contribution of different authors, and a number of scholars have suggested quantitative systems for determining authorship. Paul Friedman, in the article, "A New Standard for Authorship," suggests that contributions in more than one of the following areas might qualify a contributor as an author:
- Data collection or processing
- Analysis or interpretation
- Literature search
- Critical review
Another important question is whose names should not be on a paper. Because authorship entails rights and responsibilities, contributors should not be named as authors without their knowledge and unless they have reviewed the manuscript. Also, there is no such thing as ‘honorary’ authorship – merely providing lab space or equipment or light editing does not qualify one as an author.
Rights and Responsibilities of an Author
As the admonition “publish or perish” suggests, the major right of an author is to receive credit for the creative work required by most research positions, particularly in academia. With acknowledgment of credit comes an obligation to accept responsibility for publications as novel, meaningful, and truthful contributions to the field. As those responsibilities suggest, three of the most criticized publication practices include:
- Duplicate publication—publishing identical or equivalent materials in more than one place. This is also a form of self-plagiarizing.
- Publishing in “least publishable units”—breaking up research to maximize the numbers of publications or credit rather than to create intellectually coherent works.
- Plagiarism—claiming credit for the words or ideas of another. This is a form of scientific misconduct.
Unless the contributions of co-authors are explicitly identified, all authors take responsibility for the entire paper.
Rights and Responsibilities of a Reviewer
Peer review of papers and grant proposals allocates limited resources—journal space or funding—and improves scholarship. Given the importance of publication in academia, access to unpublished works creates responsibilities for reviewers. In general, unpublished material should be treated as confidential. Manuscripts should not be shown to colleagues. Ideas should not be adopted for use in the reviewer’s work. If a reviewer learns something from a manuscript and wishes to pursue it or provide it to another scholar, he or she should ask the editor to arrange contact between author and reviewer, so that a mutually agreeable arrangement can be made. There is one exception to the general principle of holding information learned in a review confidential. If a reviewer learns that research he or she is pursuing will not be fruitful because of the review, the reviewer’s work in that area can be terminated.
Reviewers should also be scrupulous about potential conflicts of interest. Potential conflicts of interest should be disclosed to editors and discussed. They can include:
- A financial interest that could be affected by the research results
- Knowledge of the author and a personal relationship with him or her
- Significantly overlapping research programs