Misconduct and Misbehavior Related to Authorship Disagreements in Collaborative Science

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (4):1967-1993 (2020)
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Scientific authorship serves to identify and acknowledge individuals who “contribute significantly” to published research. However, specific authorship norms and practices often differ within and across disciplines, labs, and cultures. As a consequence, authorship disagreements are commonplace in team research. This study aims to better understand the prevalence of authorship disagreements, those factors that may lead to disagreements, as well as the extent and nature of resulting misbehavior. Methods include an international online survey of researchers who had published from 2011 to 2015. Of the 6673 who completed the main questions pertaining to authorship disagreement and misbehavior, nearly half reported disagreements regarding authorship naming; and discipline, rank, and gender had significant effects on disagreement rates. Paradoxically, researchers in multidisciplinary teams that typically reflect a range of norms and values, were less likely to have faced disagreements regarding authorship. Respondents reported having witnessed a wide range of misbehavior including: instances of hostility, undermining of a colleague’s work during meetings/talks, cutting corners on research, sabotaging a colleague’s research, or producing fraudulent work to be more competitive. These findings suggest that authorship disputes may contribute to an unhealthy competitive dynamic that can undermine researchers’ wellbeing, team cohesion, and scientific integrity.



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Author Profiles

Bryn Williams-Jones
Université de Montréal
Elise Smith
National Institutes of Health