I recently reviewed a manuscript for another peer-reviewed journal. I have limited time to dedicate to reviewing for other journals, as my hands are full with our own submissions, but I try my best to accommodate requests from other journals when I can. When I reviewed this particular manuscript there was a lengthy list of authors that contributed to the paper, greater than 25, in fact. I did not question, in this particular case, the role that any of the authors had in the generation of the manuscript, BUT the experience did remind me that I find this particular topic intriguing. How could all of these authors make a significant contribution to the manuscript? I briefly touched on the issue of condition of authorship in a previous editorial,1 and I also mentioned that it was a complex and often-debated topic. I find that when a topic is complex and debated that it is also highly controversial.
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) publishes many recommendations intended to improve best practices and ethical standards surrounding the publication of medical peer-reviewed journals.2 One topic published by the ICJME contains recommendations surrounding the issue of authorship, and the recommendations are intended for journals and authors to consider. The ICMJE has established criteria to be fulfilled in order to meet the conditions of authorship and states that authorship should satisfy the four following criteria: having made a substantial contribution to the work AND revising the work critically AND giving final approval of the version to be published AND agreeing to be accountable for the contents.2 The recommendation goes on to state that ensuring the conditions of authorship are met is the responsibility of the authors. It is not the responsibility of a journal editor.
I think this is an important guideline for authors to consider when preparing manuscripts for submission, and I can think of a few compelling reasons to support this. There have been cases when a manuscript has been pulled from the review process because one of the co-authors was not properly informed of the submission. In other words, a co-author didn’t actually approve the final manuscript for submission. This can have serious implications and one such implication involves plagiarism (another hot topic). Unfortunately, plagiarism exists, and in the past the Journal of Swine Health and Production (JSHAP) has received manuscripts containing plagiarised material (fortunately identified during the review process). I am strict when it comes to plagiarism, and the consequence if identified is that JSHAP will no longer accept manuscripts from that group of authors. So if a co-author is unaware of a manuscript submission and something as serious as plagiarism is charged, then that co-author is going to be rightfully upset. This is perhaps the most obvious consequence of unengaged authorship. However, other consequences are that the integrity of the research may be compromised, as well as the integrity of research ethics in general.
The acknowledgment section of the manuscript is intended to capture and recognize the importance of other contributions and contributors to a research project. This can vary from acknowledgement of funding agencies to identifying personnel that have helped get the work done but who don’t qualify for authorship. From a research and publication ethics viewpoint, it is still important for anyone acknowledged in a manuscript to approve the acknowledgement. An acknowledgement has the potential to indicate that the person supports the conclusions of the study, and so it is important for them to be aware of any published acknowledgement.
My intent is not to give a motherly lecture on authorship, but rather to inform authors that these recommendations exist, to encourage you to be informed, and to motivate you to be an engaged co-author.
1. O’Sullivan T. Cite-seeing [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2012;20:269.
2. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Defining the role of authors and contributors. Available at: http://www.icmje.org/ recommendations/browse/roles-and- responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html. Accessed May 8, 2015.
Terri O’Sullivan, DVM, PhD Executive Editor