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Special article

Vol. 145 No. 0708 (2015)

Authorship in scientific publications: analysis and recommendations

  • Scientific Integrity Committee of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences
  • Christian W. Hess
  • Christian Brückner
  • Tony Kaiser
  • Alex Mauron
  • Walter Wahli
  • Uwe Justus Wenzel
  • Michelle Salathé
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2015;145:w14108


  1. For an overview of research in this area see Maruši et al. 2011.
  2. Both undeserved authorship and ghostwriting are widespread. Depending on the discipline and type of publication, studies have revealed inappropriate authorship in “only” 20% of articles (cf. Wislar et al. 2011), evidence of honorary authorship in 40% (cf. Mowatt et al. 2002) and evidence of ghost authorship in 75% (cf. Gøtzsche et al. 2007).
  3. Cf. Geelhoed et al. 2007; Street et al. 2010.
  4. Cf., for example, Council of Science Editors 2000, Greenland/Fontanarosa 2012.
  5. Cf. Swiss Academies 2008, p. 18.
  6. It should be noted that the conception of scientific misconduct in the US is based on a narrower definition (fabrication, falsification and plagiarism) than in Europe.
  7. According to Wager et al. 2009, authorship problems were among the top three issues of concern for science journal editors (coming after redundant publication and plagiarism).
  8. Cf. Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights of 9 October 1992, SR 231.1.
  9. Cf., for example, Pignatelli et al. 2005; Seashore Louis et al. 2008.
  10. ICMJE 2010.
  11. COPE 2011.
  12. See the list of regulations /guidelines in the Appendix.
  13. This is explicitly specified in the guidelines of the University of Basel (Art. 1.4 and 3.1) and of the ETHZ (Art. 14.1). In the guidelines of the Universities of Bern (Art. 5.2.d), Freiburg / Fribourg (Art. 2.3), St. Gallen (Annex, letter b) and Zurich (Annex 1. b.), it is implicit in the designation of practices deviating from this rule as misconduct.
  14. References to a “substantial contribution” (or similar wordings) are to be found in the guidelines of the Universities of Basel (Art. 3.1), Bern (Art. 2.2.f), Freiburg / Fribourg (Art. 2.3.a + b), Geneva (Art. 2.11) and Lausanne (Art. 2.10), and of the EPFL (Art. 11.1) and the ETHZ (14.2. a). In the guidelines of the Universities of St. Gallen and Zurich, the “substantial contribution” requirement is implicit in provisions given in the Annex.
  15. University of Bern, 2007, Art. 2.2.f.
  16. This approach is adopted in the Vancouver Group guidelines: “Authorship credit should be based on: 1. substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data; drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2 and 3 […] and all those who qualify should be listed.” ICMJE 2010.
  17. The “approval of the final version” criterion is to be found in the guidelines of the EPFL, the ETHZ and the Universities of Geneva und Lausanne
  18. SAMS 2002, p. 2281.
  19. Cf. Hunt 1991.
  20. An exception to this rule are the guidelines drafted by the body representing research associates and assistants (Mittelbaukommission) at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in 2008. However, these have since been revised and withdrawn.
  21. Cf. the guidelines of the ETHZ (Art. 14.5) and the EPFL (Art. 11.4).
  22. Cf. Riesenberg / Lundberg 1990; Wren et al. 2007; Gawrylewski 2007.
  23. Tscharntke et al. 2007.
  24. Cf., for example, Harvard Medical School 1999; the ICMJE (2010) recommends that editors “develop and implement a contributorship policy”.
  25. Cf. Rennie et al. 1997; Bates et al. 2004.
  26. Cf. the guidelines of the EPFL (Annex II): “The primary author (that is, the author listed first in the article’s byline) must have demonstrated the ability and willingness to exert scientific leadership of the project so as to (a) assume responsibility for a major professional aspect of the work, and (b) ensure that all the project objectives are met.”
  27. Cf. the guidelines of Eawag, PSI, EMPA and WSL (otherwise similar to the wording of the ETHZ Guidelines).
  28. This is included as an obligation in the EPFL Directive (Art. 11.2) and as a recommendation in the ETHZ Guidelines (Art. 14.3).
  29. Cf. Kwok 2005; Bhopal et al. 1997.
  30. It is, however, acceptable for persons whose marital status has changed to publish under their new name or to continue publishing under their original name.
  31. If what is supplied has been processed (e.g. materials which have undergone fixation or extraction, transgenic animals generated by the supplier, or patient data processed or documented to meet specific research requirements), or if equipment has been specially developed or adapted, the provision of such resources may merit authorship
  32. Cf. Albert / Wager 2003.
  33. The person doing the most work and the person making the most substantial contribution are not necessarily identical.
  34. ‒ Albert T, Wager E. How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers. COPE Report. 2003:32–4.
  35. ‒ Bates T, Anić A, Marušić M, Marušić A. Authorship criteria and disclosure of contributions: comparison of 3 general medical journals with different author contribution forms. JAMA. 2004;292:86–8.
  36. ‒ Bhopal R, Rankin J, McColl E, Thomas L, Kaner E, Stacy R, et al. The vexed question of authorship: views of researchers in a British medical faculty. BMJ. 1997;314:1009–12.
  37. ‒ COPE: Committee on Publication Ethics. Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors, 2011.
  38. ‒ Council of Science Editors. Authorship Task Force. Is it time to update the tradition of authorship in scientific publications? 2000. index.cfm?pageid=3376
  39. ‒ Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights of 9 October 1992, SR 231.1.
  40. ‒ Gawrylewski A. Bringing order to authorship. Scientist. 2007;21:91.
  41. ‒ Geelhoed RJ, Phillips JC, Fischer AR, Shpungin E, Gong Y. Authorship decision making: an empirical investigation. Ethics Behav. 2007;17:95–115.
  42. ‒ Gøtzsche PC, Hróbjartsson A, Krogh Johansen H, Haahr MT, Altman DG, Chan A-W. Ghost authorship in industry-initiated randomised trials. PLOS Medicine. 2007;4;e19:47–52.
  43. ‒ Greenland P, Fontanarosa P. Ending honorary authorship. Science. 2012;337:1019.
  44. ‒ Harvard Medical School. Authorship guidelines, 1999.
  45. ‒ Hunt R. Trying an authorship index. Nature. 1991;352:187.
  46. ‒ ICMJE: International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals. Version 2008.
  47. ‒ Kwok LS. The white bull effect: abusive coauthorship and publication parasitism. J Med Ethics. 2005;31:554–6.
  48. ‒ Marušić A, Bošnjak L, Jerončić A. A systematic review of research on the meaning, ethics and practices of authorship across scholarly disciplines. PLOS One. 2011;9; e23477:1–17.
  49. ‒ Mittelbaukommission der Zürcher Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften (ZHAW). Richtlinien für die Bestimmung der Autorenschaft bei wissenschaftlichen Publikationen, 2008.
  50. ‒ Mowatt G, Shirran L, Grimshaw JM, Rennie D, Flanagin A, Yank V, et al. Prevalence of honorary and ghost authorship in Cochrane reviews. JAMA. 2002;287:2769–71.
  51. ‒ Pignatelli B, Maisonneuve H, Chapuis F. Authorship ignorance: views of researchers in French clinical settings. J Med Ethics. 2005;31:578–81.
  52. ‒ Rennie D, Yank V, Emanuel L. When authorship fails: a proposal to make contributors accountable. JAMA. 1997;278:579–85.
  53. ‒ Riesenberg D, Lundberg GD. The order of authorship: who’s on first? JAMA. 1990;264:1857.
  54. ‒ Seashore Louis K, Holdsworth JM, Anderson MS, Campbell EG. Everyday ethics in research: translating authorship guidelines into practice in bench sciences. High Educ. 2008;79:88–112.
  55. ‒ Street JM, Rogers WA, Israel M, Braunack-Mayer AJ. Credit where credit is due? Regulation, research integrity and the attribution of authorship in the health sciences. Soc Sci Med. 2010;70(9):1458–65.
  56. ‒ Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. Integrity in scientific research: Principles and procedures. Bern 2008.
  57. ‒ Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS). Integrität in der Wissenschaft/Intégrité dans la science. Schweizerische Ärztezeitung/Bulletin des médecins suisses. 2002;83:2280–2287;2288–2295.
  58. ‒ Tscharntke T, Hochberg ME, Rand TA, Resh VH, Krauss J. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLOS Biology. 2007;5;e18:13–4.
  59. ‒ Wager E, Fiack S, Graf C, Robinson A, Rowlands I. Science journal editors’ views on publication ethics: results of an international survey. J Med Ethics. 2009;35:348–53.
  60. ‒ Wislar JS, Flanagin A, Fontanarosa PB, DeAngelis CD. Honorary and ghost authorship in high impact biomedical journals: a cross sectional survey. BMJ. 2011;343;d6128:1–7.
  61. ‒ Wren JD, Kozak KZ, Johnson KR, Deakyne SJ, Schilling LM, Dellavalle RP. The write position: A survey of perceived contributions to papers based on byline position and number of authors. EMBO Rep. 2007;8:988–91.