When authorship fails. A proposal to make contributors accountable

JAMA. 1997 Aug 20;278(7):579-85. doi: 10.1001/jama.278.7.579.


A published article is the primary means whereby new work is communicated, priority is established, and academic promotion is determined. Publication depends on trust and requires that authors be held to standards of honesty, completeness, and fairness in their reporting, and to accountability for their statements. The system of authorship, while appropriate for articles with only 1 author, has become inappropriate as the average number of authors of an article has increased; as the work of coauthors has become more specialized and relationships between them have become more complex; and as both credit and, even more, responsibility have become obscured and diluted. Credit and accountability cannot be assessed unless the contributions of those named as authors are disclosed to readers, so the system is flawed. We argue for a radical conceptual and systematic change, to reflect the realities of multiple authorship and to buttress accountability. We propose dropping the outmoded notion of author in favor of the more useful and realistic one of contributor. This requires disclosure to readers of the contributions made to the research and to the manuscript by the contributors, so that they can accept both credit and responsibility. In addition, certain named contributors take on the role of guarantor for the integrity of the entire work. The requirement that all participants be named as contributors will eliminate the artificial distinction between authors and acknowledgees and will enhance the integrity of publication.

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Databases, Bibliographic / standards
  • Disclosure
  • Editorial Policies*
  • Information Dissemination
  • Publishing / standards*
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Trust