Authorship Guidelines

There have been multiple issues raised by members of the Department of Medicine faculty around defining the roles of authorship and contributions to published work. In response, the department drafted a memo circulated to faculty in the summer of 2016, which higlighted the recommendations from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) on what constitutes grounds for authorship. 

The ICMJE[1] clearly defines four (4) criteria, including:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis or interpretation of data for the work;
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically from the view point of important intellectual content;
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; and
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions raised to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. 

Specifically, those who do not meet all of the criteria cannot be acknowledged as an author. Most importantly, contributors who meet fewer than four of the criteria should not be listed as an author, but should be acknowledged. Examples of activities that merit acknowledgement, but not authorship, include the acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support; writing and writing assistance of technical editing, language editing and proofreading; and providing access to an existing dataset.

The issue of authorship is particularly important to junior faculty as they launch their independent careers in terms of publication and become recognized as important contributors to the literature.  Universities such as Harvard have been very specific as to how junior investigators include senior colleagues in their publications. There are a number of misconceptions. On one hand, junior investigators may believe that including their senior colleagues is expected or will improve the credibility of their work. On the other hand, many senior faculty members believe that they should be listed as an author based solely on logistic, financial or administrative support alone.

Another approach to fostering independence for our junior investigators is for senior investigators not to be listed as the senior author, but rather in a co-author position. Often in published papers, the most experienced contributing author is listed as last author. The Department of Medicine recommends that the primary or lead author of the paper be responsible for setting the order of authorship.

It is also important to note that violation of the policies for authorship on scientific and scholarly publications is considered research misconduct as defined by the following documents;

Authorship issues that arise in the Department of Medicine should be flagged to the Chair and Vice-Chair, Research, to be referred to the Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, as necessary. There are guidelines that have been developed to resolve authorship disputes and the department leadership will enforce and encourage all authors to come to resolution on any authorship issue.

[1] International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. December 2015.

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