Do Medical Journals Provide Clear and Consistent Guidelines on Authorship?

Elizabeth Wager, MA

In This Article


A publication's list of authors or contributors tells readers who did the work, allows credit to be taken if it is good, and identifies those responsible if there are problems. It is therefore important that the listing is fair and accurate. It is not easy to estimate the frequency of authorship abuse, but a recent study of industry-sponsored trials found evidence of ghost authorship in 75% of papers.[1]

Guidance about determining authorship is available from a number of organizations including the Committee on Publication Ethics[2] and the Council of Science Editors.[3] Perhaps the best known guidance comes from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) in its Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals (URM).[4] However, the ICMJE criteria are not endorsed by all biomedical journals and are not universally known or accepted by researchers.[5,6,7]

Since I was checking the Instructions to Authors of a large number of biomedical journals for another project, I decided to review their guidance about authorship to see whether journals' authorship policies were consistent with one another and with published criteria.


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