This blog post is reposted from Show Me the Evidence: The Blog of Lippincott's Evidence-Based Practice Network.
When you appraise research, do you look at who was the principle investigator and wrote the article? I recently attended a session at a symposium that has made me question how I review articles for credibility. Inappropriate authorship (honorary and ghost authorship) and the resulting lack of transparency and accountability have been a substantial concern for the academic community for decades (Wislar, Flanagin, Fontanarosa, & DeAngelis, 2011). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the definitions, an honorary author is someone who is named as an author but did not meet authorship criteria and did not contribute substantially to take public responsibility for the work (Wislar, et al. 2011). A ghostwriter is someone who has made substantial contributions to the writing of the article but was not named as an author (Wislar, et al. 2011). These types of authors call into question the validity and credibility of the published work due to a lack of transparency on what they did or did not contribute to the article.
In the latest issue of BMJ, Wislar, Flanagin, Fontanarosa, and DeAngelis, explored the issue of ghost writing and honorary authorship in their study "Honorary and ghost authors in high impact biomedical journals: a cross sectional survey." They used a sample size of 896 authors from the top 2008 high Impact Factor medical journals in the industry, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Lancet, Nature Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and PLoS Medicine. Of the 896 authors, 630 responded to the survey for a 70.3% response rate. The prevalence of honorary and ghost authorship in articles published in major medical journals in 2008 was 21% (Wislar, et al. 2011). This number was a decline from identical study the group did in 1996 looking at the same publications. In 1996, the prevalence of honorary and ghost authorship was 29% (Wislar, et al. 2011).
Clearly, these results demonstrate a need for the scientific community and peer-reviewed publications to increase their efforts to promote the responsibility, accountability, and transparency in authorship, and to maintain integrity in scientific publication (Wislar, et al. 2011). As healthcare providers who depend on the research evidence to guide our practice, we must carefully appraise the evidence to make sure it is credible and trustworthy; this includes scrutinizing the authors as well as the methodology and the research results, before using the information to change our practice. I applaud the efforts of the study authors to educate the healthcare community on the important issue of inappropriate authorship. It is through their efforts and the efforts of authors, editors, and publishers that we can continue to improve the integrity of the scientific publishing industry.
Wislar, J., Flanagin, A., Fontanarosa, P., DeAngelis, C. 2011. Honorary and ghost authorship in high impact biomedical journals: a cross sectional survey. BMJ.