Research and scholarly investigations are conducted in the hopes that new and useful knowledge will be gained. Research is not considered complete until the results are disseminated - to contribute to knowledge within a field and/or provide information that is useful to the public. Publication is the primary vehicle for disseminating the results of research and scholarship. Publications also serve as the "currency" of the academic world for many disciplines, meaning the quality and quantity of publications is a criterion by which researchers are judged. The pressure created by the need to publish, and often, to publish first and in the best journals, leads to many potentially ethical decisions:
- What should be published?
- Are the results complete enough?
- Are the findings significant enough?
- How much of the research should be published?
- Who should be named as an author and who should be acknowledged?
- Have all authors' contributions been intellectually significant?
- Is every person named as an author who deserves to be?
- Has credit been adequately attributed to those whose former works or ideas contributed to the research and/or publication?
- How should research results or scholarship be explained to minimize misleading statements and/or bias?
- What to do with missing our outlying data points?
- Do graphics accurately represent the data?
- Have statistics been used in an appropriate and transparent manner?
- Have guidelines created by the relevant professional organizations been followed?
- Have any real or perceived conflicts of interest, that could impact the impartiality of the research, been disclosed?
The resources identified below provide insight into some of the ethical issues inherent in authorship and publication decisions. The resources may be used in teaching or mentoring discussions to help inform students or trainees of these issues. Please remember to attribute credit to the original creators when using the resources.
- Policy IP02: Coauthorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers and Publications
It is the policy of The Pennsylvania State University that proper credit be given to those individuals who make material contributions to activities which lead to scholarly reports, papers and publications.
- Something Looks so Familiar!
A professor discovers what looks like plagiarism in parts of a grant proposal written by a co-investigator.
- Criteria for Authorship and Attribution
A researcher tries to determine who should be named as an author on his paper based on their contributions.
- Fragmented Publication
A young faculty member tries to decide whether it would be better for her tenure review prospects to publish multiple articles based on her research vs. a more comprehensive article.
- Plagiarism Case
A postdoc is accused of plagiarizing from a prior article by one of his former co-authors.
- Reporting Preliminary Results
A researcher is caught in controversy over whether to proceed with delivering a conference presentation when she cannot replicate preliminary results.
- The Co-Authorship Controversy
A graduate student must decide how to handle faculty assumptions about authorship.
Online Learning Tools
Access to select articles is provided free of charge by Penn State Libraries. To access these articles from a non-campus location, you must authenticate using the Penn State Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Bennett, D.M. and D.McD. Taylor. 2003. Unethical practices in authorship of scientific papers. Emergency Medicine. 15: 263-270
- Moffatt, B. 2011. Responsible authorship: Why researchers must forgo honorary authorship. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance. 18(2): 76-90.
- Macrina, F.L. 2011. Teaching Authorship and Publication Practices in the Biomedical and Life Sciences. Science and Engineering Ethics. 17(2): 341-354.
- Laine, C. and C.D. Mulrow. 2005. Exorcising Ghosts and Unwelcome Guests. Annals of Internal Medicine. 143 (8): 611-612.
- Demirjian, Karoun. 2006. What is the price of plagiarism? When someone steals another's words, the penalties can vary widely. The Christian Science Monitor May 11, pg. 14.
- Benos, D.J., J. Fabres, J. Farmer, J.P. Gutierrez, et al. 2005. Ethics and scientific publication. Advances in Physiology Education. 29 (2): 59.
- Reeves, D.S., R. Wise, and C.W.E. Drummond. 2004 Duplicate publication: a cautionary tale. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. 53: 411-412.
- E. Wagner. 2007. Authors, Ghosts, Damned Lies, and Statisticians PLoS Medicine. 4 (1): e34.
- Gotzsche, P.C., A. Hrobjartsson, H.K. Johansen, M.T. Haahr, D.G. Altman, and A.W. Chan. 2007. Ghost Authorship in Industry-Initiated Randomised Trials. PLoS Medicine. 4 (1): e19.
- Cho, M and McKee, M. 2002. Authorship in Biomedical Research: Realities and Expectations Science Careers from the Journal Science.
- Mowatt et al., 2002. Prevalence of Honorary and Ghost Authorship in Cochrane Reviews. Journal of the American Medical Association 287:2769-2771