Intended for healthcare professionals


Authorship: time for a paradigm shift?

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 05 April 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:992

The authorship system is broken and may need a radical solution

  1. Richard Smith, Editor

    Anthony Trollope, one of England's greatest nineteenth century novelists, rose at 5 am every morning, wrote for several hours almost every day of his life, and so completed more than 50 books. That was authorship. The words, characters, and plots all came from him, and his was the glory and the criticism. Producing a scientific paper is completely different. Some people conceive the study, often within a broad programme of work conducted by others. Different sets of people may design it, collect the data, and analyse and interpret them. The paper may include techniques as diverse as molecular biology and economic evaluation, all carried out by different people. The person who writes the paper may have done nothing but the writing. Who then will be an author? This becomes a matter of politics, not science. Often the powerful will be authors and the powerless ignored or simply acknowledged. We need to scrap the notion of authorship in science and try something else.

    Disquiet about authorship in science has been growing for years. In …

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