The author who wasn't there? Fairness and attribution in publications following access to population biobanks

PLoS One. 2018 Mar 23;13(3):e0194997. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194997. eCollection 2018.


We conducted a document analysis that explored publication ethics and authorship in the context of population biobanks from both a theoretical (e.g. normative documents) and practical (e.g. biobank-specific documentation) perspective. The aim was to provide an overview of the state of authorship attribution in population biobanks and attempt to fill the gap in discussions around the issue. Our findings demonstrate that the most common approach adopted in both the normative and biobank-specific documentation is acknowledgment. A co-authorship approach was second and highlighted concerns surrounding the fairness of imposing authorship of the scientific leadership as a condition to access data and biosamples, as well as the alignment with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors' criteria such as what is deemed a significant contribution and how to ensure accountability. Based on these findings, we propose a three-prong approach, that may be cumulative, to address the issue of authorship attribution in the context of population biobanks, namely 1) the biobank should be appropriately acknowledged; 2) an invitation for co-authorship should be made based on the spirit of collaboration and provided a substantial contribution has been made; and 3) a citation/referencing option should be available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Publishing / ethics*

Grants and funding

The authors would like to acknowledge the financial contribution of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) through the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP).