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Authorship problem?

  1. May 10, 2009 #1
    I feel that a research team I personaly know have some authorship problem.

    But since I'm still a beginner in research field,I cannot conclude definitely.

    In that team, there are several research groups.

    Boss of the team gets funding for the whole research team, but don't contribute

    to every group's work

    A group in the team is planning to add the Boss's name as the last author for a research

    he is not actually involved, because doing so will make it possible to maintain the whole

    team's funding.

    (Not to maintain his fame)

    I'm not sure if this kind of habit is kind of academic authorship problem.

    My feeling is that "it is", but other people don't think so.

    I can't conclude about this issue.

    A member in the group is worrying much about this problem.

    Can anyone give some advice to this problem?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2009 #2


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    This can be a tricky issue.

    In my field the criteria for authorship are that all authors need to have made significant contributions to the design of the investigation, the data generation/collection, and interpretation of the results. Naturally such criteria leaves room for interpretation, however one general consensus is that simply being a member of a group, does not constitute inclusion in authorship in everything published by that group.

    On the other hand, as a junior member of a group, sometimes it can be difficult to understand contributions made by group leaders. Procuring funding often entails outlining the project and generating preliminary results. Further, directing a group means ensuring that the right people are in the right places and that they have the right tools to carry out the investigation.

    What complicates things is the simple fact that marching into the office of the person who pays you (and is likely going to give you a reference for your next position when you're a student or a post-doc) and questioning that person's contributions can be what is colloquially known as a "career-limiting move."

    In general, authorship is something that, in my experience, is left largely to the group to decide internally. Journal editors will establish criteria for authorship, but they don't have any means to referee anything beyond the content of the manuscript.

    One suggestion to help with this issue (especially among larger groups) is to institute a formal internal review process, part of which assesses the contributions of potential authors against the standards established by both the journals in the relevant field and the academic community in general. Encourage your institution to develop a written set of standards that must be met to constitute authorship. That way, any objections you may want to bring into the light will have something more than just opinion to be measured against.
  4. May 10, 2009 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    If it's not your research team, it's not really your business, is it? Also, it's very difficult to decide as an outsider to a group who has and who has not met the threshold for authorship.

    It's also not obvious that the group leader did not substantially contribute. It may be true, but it's not obvious. Did he design the experiment? A critical piece of equipment? What was his role in guiding the experiment?
  5. May 10, 2009 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    I second Vanadium 50- if you are not part of the group, then don't get involved. Unfortunately, it is a more common practice than we like to admit- I know of two large research centers, the head of whom is last author on every paper that goes out the door. This is bad practice, but my only recourse is not to collaborate with them.
  6. May 10, 2009 #5


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    Yes... This is the most common procedure for directors in many research groups.. hehe. No wonder, they have so many papers published!
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