Background: Authorship disputes and abuses have increased in recent years. In response to a proposal that researcher contributions be specified for readers, The Lancet began disclosing such contributions at the end of original articles.
Objective: To analyze the descriptions researchers use for their contributions and to determine how the order of names on the byline corresponds to these contributions, whether persons listed on the byline fulfill a lenient version of the criteria for authorship specified by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (the Vancouver Group), and whether the contributions of persons listed as contributors overlap with the contributions of those who are acknowledged.
Design: Descriptive study.
Measurements: A taxonomy of researchers' contributions was developed and applied to researchers' self-reported contributions to original research articles published in The Lancet from July to December 1997.
Results: Contributors lists occupied little page space (mean, 2.5 cm of column length). Placement on the byline did not indicate the specific category of task performed, although the first-contributor position corresponded to a significantly greater number of contributions (mean numbers of contributions: first-contributor position, 3.23; second-contributor position, 2.51; third-contributor position, 2.20; and fourth-contributor position, 2.51) (P < 0.01). Forty-four percent of contributors on the byline did not fulfill a lenient version of the Vancouver Group's criteria for authorship. Sixty percent of the most common categories of activities described on contributors lists overlapped with those on acknowledgements lists.
Conclusions: Publication of lists that specify contributions to research articles is feasible and seems to impart important information. The criteria for authorship outlined by the Vancouver Group do not seem to be congruent with the self-identified contributions of researchers.