Ethics In Authorship of Scientific Publication # 2 : Example Case

Say no to ethically incorrect authorshipOne day, a PhD graduate student (PGS) come to me and asked me questions. The topic that we discussed in our little talk was about ethics in authorship of scientific publications. Before asking his questions, he illustrate the following case: “My supervisors (si-A and si-B) did not have budget to support my PhD research and invited staff from other university (si-C) who happen to have research support from funding agency. In the project that si-C coordinated, there were two other research team members (si-D and si-E). To cut the story short, the PhD student completed his dissertation research and produced three manuscript of scientific publications. The question is how to assign authorship for scientific publications that are ethically correct?


Let’s consider the following possibilities :
(1) Si-C is senior author for all 3 publications. The reasoning for this is si-C feel that it is his ideas, his research fund, and his project. Although the PGS was actually the one executed the whole works and implemented the whole research activities, he was only secondary authors for all 3 publications. Such conditions would be very satisfactory to si-C and most probably would be disappointment to the PGS. The PGS felt that he deserved more than just junior author for the 3 publications since he who made the data realized through his PhD dissertation research activities and one who wrote the manuscripts.

(2) Si-C is senior author for 1-2 publications and the PGS is the junior in some and senior author in the others. Similar reasoning were proposed as in point (1) above.

(3) PGS is senior author for all 3 publications and si-C is the junior author. Although, si-C is a junior author, si-C is the contact person for communication about all of the publications

(4) Si-C is senior author for all 3 publications without the PGS name at all in them (single author) or the PGS is senior author for all without si-C name at all in them (single author).

Using the specific cases in point (1) to point (4) above, here are my opinions about the authorship rules in scientific publications :
(a) In point (4) above, in my opinion – both si-C and PGS are considered unethical. In fact, both are considered as ‘pelanggaran akademik’ (breach in academic rules).
(b) In point (3) above, in my opinion – is the best scheme for deciding who should be the author in scientific publications.
(c) In point (2) above, in my opinion – is the acceptable alternative for authorship in scientific publications.
(d) In point (1) above, in my opinion – is the least acceptable scheme for authorship in scientific writing. Even if si-C is the one who get the funding and initiate the main idea, contribution of the PGS in the whole processes can not be denied. Therefore, it is reasonable to give credit for the PGS and let the PGS be senior author in at least one of the publications.

The next question: What about si-A and si-B (PhD supervisors) and si-D and si-E (si-C’s research team members), do they need to be included in the authorship of the publications? Lets consider the following alternatives:

(5) None of si-A, si-B, si-E, nor si-D are included as author of the publications.

(6) Si-A, si-B, si-E, or si-D are included as co-author in some of the publications.

(7) Si-A, si-B, si-E, or si-D are included in the acknowledgment part of the publications.

Based on authoring alternatives in point (5) to point (7) above, here are my positions about this matter:
(a) In point (5), in my opinion it is ethically incorrect and should not be done.
(b) In point (6), is ethically correct and should be the preferred and selected authoring system.
(c) In point (7), it is the least acceptable scheme for authoring the scientific journal.

The last question: At IPB, there will be a requirement for a PhD student to publish a manuscript in a scientific journal before he be allowed to take closed PhD examination. The question is how about the authoring of this required manuscript? Lets consider the following alternatives:

(8) The PGS is the sole author for the required publication. Neither the supervisors (si-A, si-B, nor si-C) nor the research team members (si-D and si-E) are listed as authors of the publications.

(9) The PGS, si-A, si-B, si-C, si-D, and si-E are all listed as authors for the required publication.

(10) The PGS, si-A, si-B, and si-C are authors for the required publikation. While si-D and si-E roles are recognize in the Acknowledgment.

Based on authoring alternatives presented in point (8) to point (10) above, here are my positions about this matters :
(a) In point (8), in my opinion it is ethically incorrect and should not be done.
(b) In point (9), in my opinion it is ethically correct and should be the preferred and selected authoring system.
(c) In point (10), in my opinion it is the least acceptable scheme for authoring the scientific journal.

Well then, of course any one entitles their own opinions. You may disagree with my opinions above and that is OK. Finally, to end this writing, I remember what Prof. Mantovani of Lavall University said about ethically proper authorship as follow: ‘It is important to give proper credits in scientific publication authorship, otherwise we will demotivate the affected parties.’ I hope this writing and opinions have any positive impact to all of us in the area of scientific publication authorship. Any comment and suggestion about these matters are welcomed.

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About PMB Lab: Prof. Sudarsono

This blog is dedicated as a communication media among alumni associated with PMB Lab, Dept. of Agronomy and Horticulture, Fac. of Agriculture, IPB, Bogor – Indonesia. It contains various information related to alumni activities, PMB Lab’s on going activities and other related matters.
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