A Systematic Review of Research on the Meaning, Ethics and Practices of Authorship across Scholarly Disciplines

Abstract

BACKGROUND The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate evidence about authorship issues and provide synthesis of research on authorship across all research fields. METHODS We searched bibliographical databases to identify articles describing empirical quantitive or qualitative research from all scholarly fields on different aspects of authorship. Search was limited to original articles and reviews. RESULTS The final sample consisted of 123 articles reporting results from 118 studies. Most studies came for biomedical and health research fields and social sciences. Study design was usually a survey (53%) or descriptive study (27%); only 2 studies used randomized design. We identified four 4 general themes common to all research disciplines: authorship perceptions, definitions and practices, defining order of authors on the byline, ethical and unethical authorship practices, and authorship issues related to student/non-research personnel-supervisor collaboration. For 14 survey studies, a meta-analysis showed a pooled weighted average of 29% (95% CI 24% to 35%) researchers reporting their own or others' experience with misuse of authorship. Authorship misuse was reported more often by researcher outside of the USA and UK: 55% (95% CI 45% to 64%) for 4 studies in France, South Africa, India and Bangladesh vs. 23% (95% CI 18% to 28%) in USA/UK or international journal settings. INTERPRETATION High prevalence of authorship problems may have severe impact on the integrity of the research process, just as more serious forms of research misconduct. There is a need for more methodologically rigorous studies to understand the allocation of publication credit across research disciplines.

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