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August 20, 1997

When Authorship FailsA Proposal to Make Contributors Accountable

Author Affiliations

From the Deputy Editor (West), JAMA, Chicago, Ill (Dr Rennie); the Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco (Dr Rennie and Ms Yank); and the Ethics Standards Division, American Medical Association, Chicago, Ill (Dr Emanuel).
Dr Rennie coconceived and codeveloped the idea for the paper; codeveloped and corefined the intellectual content; contributed articles and cases collected since 1978; wrote numerous drafts; discussed the ideas at scientific meetings worldwide; and contributed editorial expertise. Ms Yank codeveloped and corefined the intellectual content; contributed to earlier drafts; produced the final draft; coordinated the project; and contributed historical expertise. Dr Emanuel coconceived and codeveloped the idea for the article; codeveloped and corefined the intellectual content; wrote the first draft; commented on subsequent drafts; and contributed expertise on ethics. All 3 contributors are guarantors for the integrity of the article as a whole. Reprints: Drummond Rennie, MD, JAMA, The Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, 1388 Sutter St, 11th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94109.

JAMA. 1997;278(7):579-585. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550070071041

A published article is the primary means whereby new work is communicated, priority is established, and academic promotion is determined. Publication depends on trust and requires that authors be held to standards of honesty, completeness, and fairness in their reporting, and to accountability for their statements. The system of authorship, while appropriate for articles with only 1 author, has become inappropriate as the average number of authors of an article has increased; as the work of coauthors has become more specialized and relationships between them have become more complex; and as both credit and, even more, responsibility have become obscured and diluted. Credit and accountability cannot be assessed unless the contributions of those named as authors are disclosed to readers, so the system is flawed. We argue for a radical conceptual and systematic change, to reflect the realities of multiple authorship and to buttress accountability. We propose dropping the outmoded notion of author in favor of the more useful and realistic one of contributor. This requires disclosure to readers of the contributions made to the research and to the manuscript by the contributors, so that they can accept both credit and responsibility. In addition, certain named contributors take on the role of guarantor for the integrity of the entire work. The requirement that all participants be named as contributors will eliminate the artificial distinction between authors and acknowledgees and will enhance the integrity of publication.