The Controversy Over Authorship in Medical Journals

Chris Herrera, Montclair State University


In the controversy over what it means to be an author in medical journals, a common charge is that the ambiguity about this term leads to unfairness. Scholars are said to exploit this ambiguity when they receive credit for papers that they have not authored in any meaningful sense. Reformers advocate tighter editorial control over journal submissions, and expanded scholarly categories, such as one for "contributors." It would make more sense, however, to place responsibility for defining authorship with institutions. Editors are too far removed from the arrangements that scholars make, and submission guidelines can suffer for their generality. Committees within the institutions would know best which scholarly practices they want to encourage, and which working arrangements are fair for those involved. Some institutions might then decide on a liberal interpretation of authorship, while others might restrict that standing to the scholars who actually compose or revise written work.