Ethics In Authorship of Scientific Publication # 3 : Why Do People Do Ethically Incorrect Authorship

Say no to ethically incorrect authorshipsIt has become an interesting question why do people do ethically incorrect authorship in scientific publication. I myself have tried to remember any past events that I thought may have been contributed to such ethically incorrect behaviors. The following may not be the true motives, but it might be part of the driving forces directing people into such ethically incorrect conducts.

Here are some of my thought in this matters [precautions: (1) These are just my personal views, (2) My views may be incorrect, (3) It is not directed toward particular persons or groups or institutions, (4) Do not believe them if you think they are wrong, and (5) If you use them in any way – it is your own risk and I will not be responsible in any way to any damages they have cost].


(1) Giving proper credits to whom or where they belong is not a kind of culture that rooted in our ancestry. On the other hand, it may have been ours but it became degraded during the 350 yrs period of The Dutch occupation.

Since they are not part of our culture, we are not used to implement the values in our daily life. It is also not easy to adopt the values and internalize them into our daily activities. Unless we are willing to learn and practice, we might not be able to do them ourselves. To be able to “give credits to whom or where they belong” requires that these values be internalized and eventually become habits. Once it has become a habit, everything will run automatically without we have to think anymore.

(2) Formal academic rules that is bias toward senior authors than to co-authors. Regardless of who funds the research, conduct the experiments, analyze the data, write the manuscript, and other activities, anyone in the position of senior author will collect 60% of publication credits, while the rest of authors will only get a total of 40%, divided by the number of authors (senior author is not counted because it already get 60%). Such condition certainly motivate anyone with project fund (PI) to be a senior author. Even if the projects are executed completely by graduate students, the PI would certainly want to be senior author to claim the full credits and will only let the graduate students as second authors. It will take a wise thinking to be able to let the graduate students be the senior authors and the PI be the co-author and the contact person only.

Things may be different if the formal rules can also acknowledge the contribution of the PI as the owner of research ideas and concepts, and especially as the one who get funding for supporting research activities. These position should be recognized as equal to senior authors regardless of the position in the authorship. The established rules in scientific community in the United States, Europe, Japan and other developed countries have implemented such recognition. In fact, it has become a common understanding in the international scientific community that in any publication, the senior author is either graduate students or postdoc and the contact person, even though his name is listed as the last author, is actually the mastermind behind the research (i.e. “He is the man” to indicate the important position that this person has in the study). This scheme has become a common knowledge and everybody already know this. The administrative in the university and research institute have also recognize this scheme, i.e. they appreciate not just a senior author in a paper but also the contact person who coordinate and fund the whole research activity (although it is not the senior author or even it is the last author).

(3) The hunger of university lecturers to achieve the professor level. There is quite a big different in term of numeration associated with the professor level than the non-professor. The race to achieve the professor level has eventually taking a toll on the ethical issue sides. Bypassing the ethical issues may sometimes be done by university lecturer in order to achieve professor level in such a short time. The way they bypass ethical issue can be done by taking over all the publications and putting their name as the senior authors even though the works were actually a thesis or dissertation of their graduate students. That way, the university lecturer will garner more publication points in less times. In such case, the graduate students will always be in the loosing side because of many reasons and they usually let those unfair treatment happens with certain degrees of unhappiness.

There is also the other side of possibility. Once graduated and came back to their university, the graduate students may also face the same challenge to obtain a number of publication credits. The former graduate students may also take the short cut to achieve the needed publication credits, by bypassing authorship ethics. We have seen a number of graduate students who actually published their thesis or dissertation research under their own name (single author). They did not recognize their supervisory committee who may have supporting the thesis or dissertation research or at least guide the students in completing their research and writing of thesis and dissertation. Such an ethically incorrect way was done by the students to get maximum publication credit for their own. All of those was driven by the rush to achieve higher position as soon as possible.

In my opinion, there are more than just those three forces that drive a number of cases of ethically incorrect acts by graduate students, university lecturers, or scientific researchers in Indonesia. I will let you the readers add more for yourself. Do let us know what you think about the topic of ethically incorrect behavior associated with authorship in scientific publications. Please write down your thought and opinions in the comment section of this post. I hope that this writing has any positive impact to all of us and could contribute positively toward the development of positive academic atmosphere in scientific writing. Happy writing……!

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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