Prevalence of honorary and ghost authorship in Cochrane reviews

JAMA. 2002 Jun 5;287(21):2769-71. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.21.2769.


Context: To determine the prevalence of honorary and ghost authorship in Cochrane reviews, how authorship is assigned, and the ways in which authors and Cochrane editorial teams contribute.

Methods: Using a Web-based, self-administered survey, corresponding authors for 577 reviews published in issues 1 and 2 from 1999 of The Cochrane Library were invited to report on the prevalence of honorary and ghost authors, contributions by authors listed in the byline and members of Cochrane editorial teams, and identification of methods of assigning authorship. Responses were received for 362 reviews (63% response rate), which contained 913 authors.

Results: One hundred forty-one reviews (39%) had evidence of honorary authors, 32 (9%) had evidence of ghost authors (most commonly a member of the Cochrane editorial team), and 9 (2%) had evidence of both honorary and ghost authors. The editorial teams contributed in a wide variety of ways to 301 reviews (83%). Authorship was decided by the group of authors (31%) or lead author (25%) in most reviews. Authorship order was assigned according to contribution in most reviews (76%). The 3 functions contributed to most by those listed in the byline were assessing the quality of included studies (83%), interpreting data (82%), and abstracting data from included studies (77%).

Conclusions: A substantial proportion of reviews had evidence of honorary and ghost authorship. The Cochrane editorial teams contributed to most Cochrane reviews.

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Databases as Topic
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Publishing*
  • Review Literature as Topic*