Authorship criteria preserve scholarly communication integrity

By Lilian Nassi-Calò

The growing demand for transparency and openness in scientific research and communication aims to increase the reliability and reproducibility of published results. The attribution of authorship, due to its relevance in the academic evaluation and reward processes, requires commitment, transparency and clearly defined rules.

Numerous initiatives have been promoting debates and suggesting alternatives to evaluate quality and scientific productivity without inferring in the number of publications or citation based impact indexes. However, feasible alternatives have not yet been found. In this scenario, authorship in journal articles still plays an important role in academic assessment.

A study by Marcia McNutt (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.) and coworkers recently published in PNAS1 evaluates the importance of transparency and accountability in authorship attribution and proposes to adopt a methodology named Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) to assign contributions, linking them to the article’s metadata and to the author’s persistent digital identifier – ORCID or other similar digital identifier. The authors recommend that research institutions and funding agencies lead the discussion on authorship responsibilities including also publishers and journal editors.

The definition of authorship, however, can vary according to the discipline, the culture of each country and even between research groups in the same discipline. It is important to emphasize that in any case, authorship implies both credit and responsibility, something that often improperly included authors do not seem to consider.

Recommendations to journals

What qualifies a contribution as authorship? The definition by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)2, widely adopted and recommended by publishers and journals includes four criteria for authorship attribution. The authors of the PNAS study1 adapted these guidelines into the following description:

Each author is expected to have made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; or the creation of new software used in the work; or have drafted the work or substantively revised it; AND to have approved the submitted version (and any substantially modified version that involves the author’s contribution to the study); AND to have agreed both to be personally accountable for the author’s own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature.

Moreover, they suggest a series of recommendations for journal editors with the aim of making the attribution of authorship in articles an ambiguity free process, as well as meetings in research institutions involving the interested parties to deal with cultural and disciplinary differences on authorship.

It is a relatively common practice, albeit deleterious to scholarly communication, to include or exclude undue authors in publications. McNutt and coworkers include in their study a table that includes terms such as “ghost authorship” (authors who contributed to the work are excluded due, for example, to hiding conflicts of interest); “honorific/guest/gift authorship” (individuals given authorship credit who have not contributed to the work, due to their stature in the organization); “orphan authorship” (authors who contributed materially to the work but are omitted unfairly by the writing author); and “forged authorship” (authors who have no relation to the work, but whose names are included in the article to increase the probability of being published). The authors include, in addition, suggestions of solutions for each case of improper authorship, some of simple execution, but effective. For example, the journal editor sending messages to all authors of a manuscript to confirm whether they are aware of the submission can easily prevent “forged authorship”.

There is no measure of the extent of dissemination of these practices in the academic literature as a whole, since it would be very difficult to quantify them. Many publishers and journals, however, have sought to guide authors in this regard. Taking as a sample the collection of Health Sciences journals of SciELO Brazil, we found that more than half, 53 (57.6%) of the 92 indexed journals mentioned guidance on authorship criteria in the Instructions to Authors. Most of them refer to the ICMJE4 criteria, but some just mention that contributors who do not qualify as authors should be cited in the Acknowledgments.

The journals, in addition, should reach a consensus on the role of the corresponding author, usually the one that ensures that the other authors receive and agree with the final version of the manuscript to be submitted, as well as all subsequent correspondence with the editors and reviewers. The corresponding author is also responsible for adapting the article to the journal standards, as well as ensuring that the data is preserved according to the area’s good practices to be retrievable for reanalysis; confirm that the data presented accurately reflects the original; and predicts and minimizes obstacles to the sharing of data and materials described in the paper in accordance with all authors; among other attributions.

Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT)

The 14 categories of Contributor Roles Taxonomy CRediT (Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Validation, Formal Analysis, Investigation, Resources, Data Curation, Writing – Original Draft, Writing – Review & Editing, Visualization, Supervision, Project Administration, and Funding Acquisition) are evidence-based and have been selected by a group of stakeholders from author statements and acknowledgments in research articles in the areas of physical sciences, social sciences, and life sciences. They were developed by a group of scholars including academics, research institutions, funding agencies, publishers and scientific societies to classify the authors’ contribution. By combining them with persistent author identifiers (e.g. ORCID), it is possible to link the author’s data with their publications, capture the author’s contributions in the journal’s metadata, plus track and retrieve a researcher’s authoring contributions through their journals publications and over time.

Thus, the greater the uniformity of authorship declarations through journals, the better for the author, since such statements need not be changed if the submitted article is rejected and has to be submitted to another journal, or if the same research group submits new following article to previous research in the same or other journal.

It is expected that the use of taxonomy categories will facilitate the discussion of authorship criteria among the contributors of a study across different disciplines and cultures, also with respect to different meanings of the order of authorship in the disciplines. The availability of the taxonomic category of each author in the machine-readable and human-readable formats as part of the article’s metadata will allow the identification of the authors’ contribution in different contexts and indexing systems.

In turn, the use of persistent author identifier, such as ORCID or other, aims to eliminate homonyms and other misconceptions with the authors’ names. Its use in conjunction with article metadata ensures proper attribution of publications and citations to authors, and is currently required for the corresponding author or all authors by many journals and publishers. In addition, persistent identifiers for funding agencies, research institutions, and even data repositories are under development that should standardize and facilitate registration, contributing to integrity of the metadata record and citations.

Recommendations for Research Institutions, Funders, and Societies

Authorship issues, although treated with priority by journals and publishers, cannot be resolved by these actors when conflicts arise. Research institutions, on the other hand, should promote debates and establish authorship policies involving not only faculty members and researchers, but also undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, staff, and other contributors. These discussions should also be kept with researchers from other institutions – at home or abroad – when starting a collaboration, to avoid conflicts when writing the article.

Funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the European Commission, have much to gain from using persistent identifiers such as ORCID to reduce data entry and facilitate the tracking and retrieval of the research impact. If these identifiers are linked to the authors’ contribution through the CRediT taxonomy, agencies can more efficiently obtain data on the true contribution of a researcher who submits a research grant proposal, without having to resort to other impact metrics. Another advantage is the search in CRediT files for expert reviewers to evaluate projects. Likewise, scientific societies can promote transparency in the attribution of authorship in their journals and in the meetings they promote.

In order to encourage the use of contributor roles taxonomies by the scientific community, the National Academy of Sciences created the website Transparency in Author Contributions in Science (TACS) where the journals that joined the authors identification through ORCID and attributed to their contributions one of the CRediT taxonomy categories are listed. At the time of publication of this post, the Science Family of Journals, the Nature Publishing Group, the New England Journal of Medicine, all journals of the American Geophysical Union and the PLoS family of journals were on the site. A remarkable beginning, that’s for sure.

The SciELO Indexing Criteria will require from 2018 that the journals instruct the authors to register their contribution, which should at least have participated actively in the discussion of the results and in the review and approval of the final version of the manuscript. It is expected that SciELO journals will also consider the adoption of the CRediT taxonomy in line with the good communication practices of open science that SciELO is promoting.


1. MCNUTT, M.K., et al. Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in scientific publication. PNAS [online]. 2018, ahead of print, ISSN: 0027-8424 [viewed 14 March 2018]. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1715374115. Available from:

2. Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. International Committee of medical Journal Editors [online]. ICMJE [viewed 14 March 2018]. Available from:


CRediT [online]. CASRAI [viewed 14 March 2018]. Available from:

Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors [online]. ICMJE [viewed 14 March 2018]. Available from:

HARP, G. Authors reflect on the CRediT taxonomy [online]. CrossTalk, 2016 [viewed 14 March 2018]. Available from:

MCNUTT, M.K., et al. Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in scientific publication. PNAS [online]. 2018, ahead of print, ISSN: 0027-8424 [viewed 14 March 2018]. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1715374115. Available from:

Transparency in Author Contributions in Science (TACS) [online]. National Academy of Sciences [viewed 14 March 2018]. Available from:

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How to cite this post [ISO 690/2010]:

NASSI-CALÒ, L. Authorship criteria preserve scholarly communication integrity [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2018 [viewed ]. Available from:


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