The main principle of scientific publication is authorship which confers credit, responsibility, and accountability to the authors of the published work. Authorship also influences the academic reputation, social status, and funding opportunities of researchers, journals, and audiences. However, it is a controversial and complex topic, as there are different practices, criteria, and expectations for deciding and acknowledging authors in different fields of study, disciplines, and journals. One common problem that challenges the integrity and ethics of authorship is the practice of paying co-authors or guest authors for scientific publishing. In this article, we will explain what are paid co-authors or guest authors, why they produce problems, and how to prevent or avoid them.
What are the different types of authors?
Paid co-authors or guest authors are those who do not do substantial or valid work for the research or publication process. They may get money from someone else to be included as authors, or they give money to someone else to be included as authors. There are various types and reasons for paid co-authors or guest authors, as follows:
These are professional authors and writers often working for medical communication agencies or pharmaceutical companies. They write or edit manuscripts on behalf of the named authors but who are not acknowledged or disclosed in the publication. Although ghost authors are good at writing, they may not have direct involvement or accountability in the research. Ghost authorship may affect the quality, validity, and transparency of the research and the responsibility and credibility of the named authors.
The named authors give these individuals authorship and gesture of kindness, respect, or reward but have not made substantial contributions to the research. Gift authors may include senior colleagues, supervisors, mentors, peers, friends, or relatives of the named authors who may have offered some support, advice, or impact for the study but not enough to qualify as authors. Gift authorship may enhance the number and order of authors and weaken the actual authors’ credit and accountability.
Guest authors are those who are invited or requested by the named authors to join as co-authors but who do not have done much work for the research. These authors may include famous or well-known scholars in the field who may have some relevance or interest in the research topic but not enough to deserve authorship. Guest authorship may be utilized to promote the research’s reputation, impact, and visibility and gain favor or recognition from the guest authors.
These kinds of authors are those who are given authorship as a sign of respect, honor, or gratitude by the named authors but who have not done enough work for the research. Honorary authors may include prominent or admired figures in the field or institution, who may have some authority or prestige about the research, but not enough to qualify as authors. Honorary authorship may be used to recognize the role or effect of the honorary authors and take advantage of their status or endorsement.
What are the Problems of paid co-authors or guest authors
There are several problems with contributing with paid co-authors or guest authors, such as:
Breaking the ethical rules and guidelines for authorship
Most journals and publishers follow the criteria for authorship suggested by the International Committee Of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which requires that authors should meet all four criteria. These four standards are as follows:
- significant contributions to the conception, design, implementation, analysis, or interpretation of the research
- writing or revising the manuscript critically for important intellectual content
- approve the final version of the manuscript for publication
- Accepting responsibility for all aspects of the research and ensuring that any questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
Paid co-authors or guest authors do not fulfill these criteria, and therefore they should not be acknowledged or credited as authors.
Undermining the quality and integrity of the research.
These authors may bring bias, error, or misconduct into the research process and publication results. They may have conflicts of interest, hidden agendas, or ulterior motives that may affect their objectivity or honesty in doing or reporting the research. They may also lack expertise, skills, or information about the research topic, methods, or findings. They may also fail to ensure the research data and information’s accuracy, validity, and reliability.
Affecting the credit and responsibility of the real and legal authors
Paid co-authors or guest authors may get undue credit or benefit from the research result and impact without making enough contribution or effort. They may also avoid or transfer responsibility and accountability for the research quality and integrity without encountering the consequences or risks. These types of authors may also weaken or diminish the credit and responsibility of the real authors who may have made significant contributions and efforts to the research.
How to avoid paid co-authors or guest authors
You can prevent or avoid paid co-authors or guest authors by following some best practices, such as:
Setting up clear and transparent standards and policies for authorship
Researchers, journals, and publishers should adhere to the ethical standards and guidelines for authorship, such as ICMJE criteria, and make them clear and transparent to all possible authors and contributors. They should also define and document the particular roles, responsibilities, and contributions of each author and contributor and disclose them in the manuscript or publications.
Communicating and negotiating authorship problems early and openly
Researchers should communicate and decide on authorship issues early and openly among other possible authors and contributors. They should also agree on standards, order, and acknowledgment of authorship, as well as the expectations and deadlines for each author and contributor. In addition, they should review and revise the authorship list as the research goes on and solve any problems or conflicts respectfully and constructively.
Getting external support and advice when needed
Researchers should seek external support and advice when needed to handle authorship issues. They can consult their mentors, supervisors, peers, editors, reviewers or experts for guidance and feedback on their authorship choices. They can also utilize professional services such as editing, proofreading, translation, or plagiarism checking to enhance the quality and integrity of their manuscript.
Paid co-authors or guest authors are unethical and problematic practices that affect the integrity and ethics of authorship in scientific papers and publishing. By using the best practices introduced in this article, researchers can prevent paid co-authors or guest authors and ensure their research’s fair and ethical acknowledgment and credit.