The authorship lottery: an impediment to research collaboration?

Ann Neurol. 2010 Dec;68(6):782-6. doi: 10.1002/ana.22232.


Authorship of scientific publications holds great importance for basic and clinical researchers. Academic appointments and promotions, grant funding, and salary support depend to some extent on published recognition through authorship. Peer-recognition and personal satisfaction are additional incentives for authorship. Some current "rules" and conventions for assigning authorship are based on largely unwritten but widely-accepted arbitrary decisions. We hypothesize that the inherent uncertainties about assigning "credit where credit is due" serve as a disincentive for clinicians considering an academic career and may discourage or at least impede the collaborations essential to address most translational and clinical research issues. Surveys of the New England Journal of Medicine and the Annals of Neurology suggest that neurologists have been slow to adopt ways of sharing "credit" appropriately. We recommend that authorship of reports of the primary results of multicenter or multidisciplinary studies should be in the name of the group of investigators collaborating on the work. Given the availability of digital methods that could apportion credit quantitatively, academic leaders, including funding agencies and promotions committees, should consider challenging outmoded authorship conventions. Authorship is too important to be left to chance.

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data*