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Peer reviewers can meet journals’ criteria for authorship

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 16 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f166
  1. Thomas C Erren, professor 1,
  2. Michael Erren, senior researcher2,
  3. David M Shaw, senior researcher3
  1. 1University Hospital of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
  2. 2Center for Laboratory Medicine, University Hospital Münster, Westphalian Wilhelms-University of Münster, Germany
  3. 3Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to: DM Shaw davidmartinshaw{at}

The question of exactly who should receive credit and bear responsibility for scientific publications has been discussed repeatedly in recent years. The majority of journals in the medical arena adhere to the authorship standards that have been developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The ICMJE’s Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals aim to combat ghost and guest authorship and to allow appropriate recognition and accountability for what was done and how it is published. However, consideration of the ICMJE’s Ethical Considerations in the Conduct and Reporting of Research leads to the following questions. Should substantial contributions by peer reviewers be openly declared? Should some reviewers perhaps even be credited as authors?

Admittedly, reviewers’ contributions arrive after a study has been planned, conducted, analysed, and written up. However, diligent reviewers examine how research was designed and data collected, analysed, and interpreted (meeting ICJME criterion 1).1 In addition, reviewers suggest modifications to both design and text that often substantially improve the paper (criterion 2).1 The reviewer’s recommendation to accept the paper for publication could qualify as final approval of the paper (which is criterion 3).1 In …

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