Non-existent authorsBMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5706 (Published 13 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5706
- Jeffrey K Aronson, clinical pharmacologist
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Oxford, UK
Authorship of bioscientific papers is a serious business. Most journals have policies that encourage transparency, making it clear who did what, but some authors take it less seriously than editors might like, and indexers don’t always get it right.
Searching for common abbreviations (table 1) in PubMed (1809–2017), Embase (1974–2017), Ovid Medline (1946–2017), Philosopher’s Index (1966–2016), and PsychINFO (1806–2017), I found three types of non-existent authors: apparent authors (such as Et Al and Anon), which conceal the identities of real contributors, depriving them of recognition; apparent authors whose “names” are postnominals, such as “Phil D”; and authors whose initials have been used as surnames and surnames as initials.
Here I explore two of these categories in more detail, and discuss other forms of authorship.
Et al and anon
Searching for “et al[au]” yielded 51 474 hits in PubMed (fig 1), 54 199 in Medline, 9896 in PsycINFO, 1453 in Philosopher’s Index, and 264 in Embase.
Et Al seems to be a highly prolific author whose identity is shrouded in mystery. He or she has authored nearly 60 000 papers and is always the last person mentioned, suggesting a degree of seniority. I imagine this author as someone called …