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Honorary and ghost authorship

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 25 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6223
  1. Patricia K Baskin, executive editor, Neurology1,
  2. Robert A Gross, editor in chief, Neurology 2
  1. 1American Academy of Neurology, St Paul, MN 55116, USA
  2. 2Strong Epilepsy Center, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA
  1. pbaskin{at}

Has not substantially declined, suggesting that standards need tightening up

What qualifies a person to be an author of a research paper? Is it simply a matter of enlisting a patient in a clinical trial, or does authorship require a particular level of participation in planning and executing a study? Should there be a “substantial” contribution to the writing? It may be that satisfactory answers to the complex questions around authorship are not feasible, desirable, or even possible. However, most would agree that pursuing clarity of contributions to a scientific article is a worthy goal. Journal editors serve the medical community best when readers can judge accurately how the work was done and communicated. Accurate identification of authors is the first step in creating transparency of contributions.

In the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.d6128), Wislar and colleagues compare the prevalence of honorary (guest) and ghost authors in six leading medical journals in 2008 and 1996.1 The authors used the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria to define honorary and ghost authorship.2 The results showed that inappropriate authorship declined from 29% of articles in 1996 to only 21% in 2008, an improvement from previous studies cited by the authors, which were also based on the ICMJE criteria but lacked the breadth of the authors’ 1996 and 2008 studies. However, this proportion of inappropriate authorship is a concern to institutions and journals responsible for integrity in scientific reporting. Despite some limitations …

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