Authorship is a way of making explicit both credit and responsibility for the contents of published articles. Credit and responsibility are inseparable. The guiding principle for authorship decisions is to present an honest account of what took place. Criteria for authorship apply to all intellectual products, including print and electronic publications of words, data, and images. Authorship also implies responsibility and accountability for published work. The contributors who have made substantive intellectual contributions to a paper are given credit as authors, but also contributors credited as authors understand their role in taking responsibility and being accountable for what is published. Because authorship does not communicate what contributions qualified an individual to be an author, editors are strongly encouraged to develop and implement a contributorship policy, as well as a policy that identifies who is responsible for the integrity of the work as a whole. Such policies remove much of the ambiguity surrounding contributions but leave unresolved the question of the quantity and quality of contribution that qualify an individual for authorship.
CRITERIA FOR AUTHORSHIP
Everyone who has made substantial intellectual contributions to the study on which the article is based (for example, to the research question, design, analysis, interpretation, and written description) should be an author. Only an individual who has made substantial intellectual contributions should be an author. Performing technical services, translating text, identifying patients for the study, supplying materials, and providing funding or administrative oversight over facilities where the work was done are not, in themselves, sufficient for authorship, although these contributions may be acknowledged in the manuscript. One author (a “guarantor”) should take responsibility for the integrity of the work as a whole. Often this is the corresponding author, the one who sends in the manuscript and receives reviews, but other authors can have this role. All authors should approve the final version of the manuscript. It is preferable that all authors be familiar with all aspects of the work. However, modern research is often done in teams with complementary expertise so every author may not be equally familiar with all aspects of the work. Therefore, some authors’ contributions may be limited to specific aspects of the work as a whole.
NUMBER OF AUTHORS
Editors should not arbitrarily limit the number of authors. There are legitimate reasons for multiple authors in some kinds of research, such as multi-center, randomized controlled trials. In these situations, a subset of authors may be listed with the title, with the notation that they have prepared the manuscript on behalf of all contributors, who are then listed in an appendix to the published article. Alternatively, a “corporate” author (e.g., a “Group” name) representing all authors in a named study may be listed, as long as one investigator takes responsibility for the work as a whole. In either case, all individuals listed as authors should meet the criteria for authorship whether or not they are listed explicitly on the byline. If editors believe the number of authors is unusually large, relative to the scope and complexity of the work, they can ask for a detailed description of each author’s contributions to the work. If some do not meet the criteria for authorship, editors can require that their names be removed as a condition of publication.
ORDER OF AUTHORSHIP
The authors themselves should decide the order in which authors are listed in an article. No one else knows as well as they do their respective contributions and the agreements they have made among themselves. Readers cannot know, and should not assume, the meaning of the order of authorship unless the approach to assigning order has been described by the authors.
Disputes about authorship are best settled at the local level before the journal reviews the manuscript. However, at their discretion editors may become involved in resolving authorship disputes. Changes in authorship at any stage of manuscript review, revision, or acceptance should be accompanied by a written request and explanation from all of the original authors.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Authors have requested evidence of whether impending conflicts do or do not exist by signing the conflict of interest which should be included in the main manuscript.
Responsibilities on Conflicts of Interest
Public trust in the scientific process and the credibility of published articles depend in part on how transparent conflicts of interest are handled during the planning, implementation, writing, peer review, editing, and publication of scientific work. Financial relationships (such as employment, consultancies, stock ownership or options, honoraria, patents, and paid expert testimony) are the most easily identifiable conflicts of interest and the most likely to undermine the credibility of the journal, the authors, and of science itself. However, conflicts can occur for other reasons, such as personal relationships or rivalries, academic competition, and intellectual beliefs. All authors should comply with the journals’ policies on conflict of interest. All participants in the peer-review and publication process, not only authors but also peer reviewers, editors, and editorial board members of journals must consider their conflicts of interest when fulfilling their roles in the process of article review and publication and must disclose all relationships that could be viewed as potential conflicts of interest.
- Authors: When authors submit a manuscript of any type or format, they are responsible for disclosing all financial and personal relationships that might bias or be seen to bias their work
- Reviewers: Reviewers should be asked at the time they are asked to critique a manuscript if they have conflicts of interest that could complicate their review. Reviewers must disclose to editors any conflicts of interest that could bias their opinions of the manuscript and should recuse themselves from reviewing specific manuscripts if the potential for bias exists. Reviewers must not use knowledge of the work they’re reviewing before its publication to further their own interests.
- Editors: Editors who make final decisions about manuscripts should recuse themselves from editorial decisions if they have conflicts of interest or relationships that pose potential conflicts related to articles under consideration. Other editorial staff members who participate in editorial decisions must provide editors with a current description of their financial interests or other conflicts (as they might relate to editorial judgments) and recuse themselves from any decisions in which a conflict of interest exists.
Reporting Conflicts of Interest
Articles should be published with statements or supporting documents if needed, declaring:
- Authors’ conflicts of interest; and
- Sources of support for the work, including sponsor names along with explanations of the role of those sources if any in study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the report; the decision to submit the report for publication; or a statement declaring that the supporting source had no such involvement; and
- Whether the authors had access to the study data, with an explanation of the nature and extent of access, including whether access is ongoing.
To support the above statements, editors may request that authors of a study sponsored by a funder with a proprietary or financial interest in the outcome sign a statement, such as “I had full access to all of the data in this study and I take complete responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.”