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October 10, 1990

The Order of Authorship: Who's on First?

JAMA. 1990;264(14):1857. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140079039

The authorship of medical articles is under scrutiny as never before. Fraudulent work appears, then may enjoy citation in the literature long after retraction.1 In academia, most appointment and promotion committees tally the number of publications of a candidate, a recent proposal for some limit notwithstanding.2 Names of prominent, senior scientists appear in bylines, so-called honorary authorship, as a means of impressing editors and reviewers and to acknowledge moral or financial support.3

Perhaps the responsibilities of authorship come into clearest focus when investigators decide on the order in which their names will be listed on their manuscript. The designation of first author and the sequence of listing are important for several reasons. Some landmark studies are known by the name of their first author, lending support to the impression that, being listed first, he or she played a pivotal role in performing the work and writing the