Too much of a good thing? An observational study of prolific authors

PeerJ. 2015 Aug 18;3:e1154. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1154. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

Introduction. Researchers' productivity is usually measured in terms of their publication output. A minimum number of publications is required for some medical qualifications and professional appointments. However, authoring an unfeasibly large number of publications might indicate disregard of authorship criteria or even fraud. We therefore examined publication patterns of highly prolific authors in 4 medical specialties. Methods. We analysed Medline publications from 2008-12 using bespoke software to disambiguate individual authors focusing on 4 discrete topics (to further reduce the risk of combining publications from authors with the same name and affiliation). This enabled us to assess the number and type of publications per author per year. Results. While 99% of authors were listed on fewer than 20 publications in the 5-year period, 24 authors in the chosen areas were listed on at least 25 publications in a single year (i.e., >1 publication per 10 working days). Types of publication by the prolific authors varied but included substantial numbers of original research papers (not simply editorials or letters). Conclusions. Institutions and funders should be alert to unfeasibly prolific authors when measuring and creating incentives for researcher productivity.

Keywords: Authorship; Misconduct; Publication ethics; Research integrity; Researcher productivity.

Grant support

No external funding was obtained for this project.