Authorship Disputes: Tips to avoid conflicts

Tips to avoid Authorship DisputesAuthorship’ denotes the practice of providing truthful credits for intellectual contributions and innovative concepts. It not only helps authors acquire the credit for the work, but also ensures that they assume responsibility for the research conducted and presented. Moreover, it is perceived as a tool for personal satisfaction, prestige, and especially, a stepping stone in a writer’s academic career. Though the term sounds interesting, it involves high risks and problems in practice.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) often receives disputes regarding authorship. These cases usually involve disputes like the omission of a deserving junior researcher’s name from the authors’ list or a proposal by a sponsor for including the name of a non-contributing author. However, it also received a shocking complaint from a female author, who said that her name was replaced with that of her boss in the final version when she was away on maternity leave.

Apart from having a direct impact on the publication in question, authorship disputes can also have repercussions on a writer’s fair credit, collegial relationships, future collaborations, and reputations.

Following the adage that prevention is better than cure, the following are some guiding principles to avoid conflicting situations like authorship disputes.

  • Adhere to the authorship criteria of the publication

Each publisher follows specific authorship guidelines enunciated by organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), Council of Science Editors (CSE), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and Good Publication Practice (GPP2). Non-compliance with the concerned guidelines—i.e., unequal application of authorship criteria, granting authorship to undeserving individuals, and/or omitting authorship to deserving individuals—is considered to be a serious offense in the academic world and can be construed as  research misconduct.

  • Hold prior discussions with co-authors

All the authors of a paper should discuss and finalize the authorship order and contributions along with respective responsibilities before beginning to prepare a manuscript and, if possible, even before starting a study.

  • Stick to the plan of action

In few cases, it has been observed that even if the authors have agreed to the sequence of authorship and contributions, fraudulent authors make last-minute changes in the manuscript or research paper just before submission. This leads to conflicts in publishing the paper, and some even end with retraction of the paper. To avoid such anomalies and unpleasant situations, it is advisable to comply with the agreement made between the author and co-authors.

However, even the best plans sometimes fail. So it is better to track and revisit the issues and monitor any changes or modifications in authorship or contributions. If one discovers any changes before publication, it can be revised after discussions with the co-authors. Conversely, if the detection is made post-publication, one can contact the journal along with the written agreements and evidence of contributions, and request for a correction or a retraction of the paper.

Ethical conflicts in career of medical writers

Medical writers develop content linked with the pharmaceutical, medical, healthcare, and bio-medical sciences. In performing that role, they often face a dilemma about how much they can change or add content so that their writing is not classified as that of a paid ghost writer. This is one of several ethical issues that are an integral part of a medical writer’s career.

With flexibility in terms of working hours, medical writers are able to explore new interdisciplinary fields to develop content. However, crossing the thin line into the realm of ghostwriting is a grave ethical concern in cases where the manuscript is being submitted  to an academic journal for publication.Ethical conflicts

Following are some of the allied issues that have been questioned in a medical writer’s career from an ethical standpoint:

  • Incorrect interpretation of the results by the writer will not only adversely affect the research but also the credibility of the writer.
  • Inadequate research on the specific research topic and related issues might lead to errors of omission or commission, which will finally have a bearing on the quality of the final output.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are constantly evolving existing drugs and introducing new ones. This might position the medical writer on the cusp of uncertainty because such developments necessitate last minute  changes in the manuscript and, possibly, even the conclusions. Conversely, ignoring such new data will jeopardize the research output.
  • Akin to any other field of writing, plagiarism is a bane for medical writers. Often, medical writers are tempted to present someone else’s research work, either wholly or partly. This unethical practice is resorted to as a shortcut to keep abreast of tight deadlines imposed by the author for writing and submitting a research paper.
  • Authorship issues also pose problems for medical writers. They need to follow the journal guidelines and keep at arm’s length the issues related to conflict of interest vis-à-vis the sole proprietor of the manuscript or the research.

Medical writers need to take cognizance of all these potential pitfalls while developing content because such awareness helps them excel in the field of medical writing and leads to a clear understanding of their work objectives.