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Original Investigation
Pacific Coast Surgical Association
September 18, 2019

Courtesy Authorship in Academic Surgery Publications

Author Affiliations
  • 1Trauma and Emergency Surgery Service, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Portland, Oregon
  • 2Department of Surgery, Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, Washington
  • 3Division of Vascular Surgery, Department of Surgery, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
  • 4Department of Surgery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 5Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 6Editor, JAMA Surgery
JAMA Surg. Published online September 18, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2019.3140
Key Points

Question  What are the prevalence and motivations surrounding courtesy authorship in current surgical academia?

Findings  This survey study found that courtesy authorship remains prevalent (17%). The rates and motivations of courtesy authorship vary greatly between first and senior authors as well as in high and low impact factor journals.

Meaning  Courtesy authorship remains a common practice in surgical academia, and by understanding the motivations and incentives, clinicians can work to eliminate its occurrence.

Abstract

Importance  Courtesy authorship is defined as including an individual who has not met authorship criteria as an author. Although most journals follow strict authorship criteria, the current incidence of courtesy authorship is unknown.

Objective  To assess the practices related to courtesy authorship in surgical journals and academia.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A survey was conducted from July 15 to October 27, 2017, of the first authors and senior authors of original articles, reviews, and clinical trials published between 2014 and 2015 in 8 surgical journals categorized as having a high or low impact factor.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The prevalence of courtesy authorship overall and among subgroups of authors in high impact factor journals and low impact factor journals and among first authors and senior authors, as well as author opinions regarding courtesy authorship.

Results  A total of 203 first authors and 254 senior authors responded (of 369 respondents who provided data on sex, 271 were men and 98 were women), with most being in academic programs (first authors, 116 of 168 [69.0%]; senior authors, 173 of 202 [85.6%]). A total of 17.2% of respondents (42 of 244) reported adding courtesy authors for the surveyed publications: 20.4% by first authors (32 of 157) and 11.5% by senior authors (10 of 87), but 53.7% (131 of 244) reported adding courtesy authorship on prior publications and 33.2% (81 of 244) had been added as a courtesy author in the past. Although 45 of 85 senior authors (52.9%) thought that courtesy authorship has decreased, 93 of 144 first authors (64.6%) thought that courtesy authorship has not changed or had increased (P = .03). There was no difference in the incidence of courtesy authorship for low vs high impact factor journals. Both first authors (29 of 149 [19.5%]) and senior authors (19 of 85 [22.4%]) reported pressures to add courtesy authorship, but external pressure was greater for low impact factor journals than for high impact factor journals (77 of 166 [46.4%] vs 60 of 167 [35.9%]; P = .04). More authors in low impact factor journals than in high impact factor journals thought that courtesy authorship was less harmful to academia (55 of 114 [48.2%] vs 34 of 117 [29.1%]). Overall, senior authors reported more positive outcomes with courtesy authorship (eg, improved morale and avoided author conflicts) than did first authors.

Conclusions and Relevance  Courtesy authorship use is common by both first and senior authors in low impact factor journals and high impact factor journals. There are different perceptions, practices, and pressures to include courtesy authorship for first and senior authors. Understanding these issues will lead to better education to eliminate this practice.

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