Honorary authorship more frequent in Asia, Europe than North America

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The perception of honorary authorship is substantially more frequent among those in Asia and Europe than North America, according to a study published in the May issue of Radiology.

Honorary authorship, the intentional misrepresentation of credit to authors of biomedical articles who do not meet the criteria for authorship that has been established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, has been a persistent problem in major radiology research journals.

Previous research about the topic has suggested that information regarding the geographic factors concerning the frequency of honorary authorship would be of valuable use. Lead author Ronald L. Eisenberg, MD, JD, of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues created a questionnaire survey to identify the potential effect of geographic factors on the frequency of honorary authorship in four major radiology research journals.

The authors distributed an electronic survey to the first authors of all original research articles published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, European Radiology, Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Radiology over a two year period. Of the 1,398 first authors, 328 responded.

Responses revealed that 27.7 percent of respondents believed that at least one coauthor did not make significant contributions to merit authorship. Additionally, 165 (50.3 percent) said that one or more coauthors performed only “nonauthor” tasks based on the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors criteria.

Honorary authorship was perceived to be significantly higher in Asia and Europe than North America and in institutions where a section or department head was automatically listed as coauthor. A significantly lower perception of honorary authorship was associated with adherence to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors criteria and policies that offer courses or lectures on publication ethics. 

"Our results indicate that the solution to the problem of honorary authorship requires a change in the internal culture of radiology departments, as well as activities to raise consciousness in regard to the problem," wrote Eisenberg and colleagues.