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The ICMJE’s definition of authorship is illogical and unethical

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 07 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7192
  1. David Shaw, lecturer in ethics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G2 3JZ, UK
  1. davidmartinshaw{at}

In recent years there have been many revelations about ghost authors, who contribute to publications but are not credited, and guest authors, who do not contribute but are credited. Most medical and many other journals adhere to the authorship standards set by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which were designed in part to combat the phenomena of ghost and guest authorship. However, the current criteria set for authorship by the ICMJE have their own problems.

Imagine that Andrew, Michael, and Chris decide to collaborate on some research. Andrew has had a brilliant idea for a study, and he and Chris carry it out successfully. Michael writes a paper based on their results and analysis, and Chris checks and corrects it. All three approve the final draft. They are aware that their paper is of great importance, so they decide to submit it to the BMJ. All goes well until they reach the authorship statement stage of the submission process, where they must agree with the statement, “We all meet the definition …

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