The ambiguity of authorship in scientific articles

19 September 2018

Lorin Raats

Lorin Raats, a Biotechnology Associate, gave his opinion as a reaction to an article in Nature. Read his reaction down below.

Publishing articles in journals, it is a key component of being a scientist. Not only for your visibility, but more importantly to improve and accelerate our knowledge by sharing findings and peer-reviewing them. Or so I learned at University while I was studying Biology.

Until now, a paper based on my research at University is still in the pipeline, so I have experienced hands-on how much effort and time it takes to publish an article. Thus, I was amazed to see that there are people who succeed in publishing an average of 1 article every 5 days! These are the so called hyperprofilic scientists. This issue was raised in Nature and mentioned that up to 66% of these writers are active in medicinal- and life-science. Such a high rate definitely poses a lot of question-marks and is worth to have a thorough discussion.

For having a frame of reference, I will give some findings that surprised me on the trend of hyperprofilic writers:

  • 66 % of these authors are active in the fields of life science and medicine
  • Only in 8.5 % of publications, they are first author
  • The trend grew 20-fold since 2001
  • Higher ratio in countries with cash incentives
  • It appears to be endemic in certain fields of research
  • It seems dependent on the research institution or group, even if they are active in the same field of research

This raised a lot of questions for me. First of all in relationship to authorship:

  • What does it mean to be an author?
  • Who is considered an author?
  • Are people added as an author, either for raising credibility to the paper or to the scientist itself?

Second of all, what struck me the most is that a high amount of these hyperprofilic writers, mentioned they did not see themselves as real authors of the article.

What does that mean:

  • Should we change the system to maintain the value of the process?
  • Would different levels of authorship and a clearly specified definition solve the problem?
  • If so, how can this practically be implemented in the scientific community?

Thirdly, about the general drive for more publications:

  • What side effects does it have?
  • Does it undermine the general goals in sharing information or the quality of the research?

What do you think is the impact of this trend and what could be possible solutions? We are curious to hear your point of view!

Click on the link to read the article:

Written by Lorin Raats