The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) clearly define four criteria that must be fulfilled for an individual to be credited as an author of a scientific paper. Those who do not fulfil all criteria, but have made a substantial contribution to the paper, should be named in the acknowledgements. However, ghost authorship, where an individual significantly contributes to a manuscript in the form of writing, editing or conducting research, but is not listed as an author nor appropriately acknowledged, still remains an issue. Honorary authorship is also a concern, where an individual is named on the paper despite having little to do with the work being reported.
In a recent article by Moots et al which was co-published in seven rheumatology journals, the authors report that although there is evidence of an overall decrease in inappropriate honorary and/or ghost authorship (from 29% in 1996 to 21% in 2008), the problem persists. The authors explain that this can have clinical implications, for example, when a clinical trial manuscript is written by employees of the sponsor but the first author is given as an academically-affiliated investigator. However, they do emphasise that properly acknowledged medical writing support is perfectly acceptable, stating: “We do not believe that medical writers/medical editing should be banned; they can and do have a legitimate place in assisting with the preparation of manuscripts. It is their concealment that is unacceptable.” The Good Publication Practice (GPP) 3 guideline can help individuals and organisations maintain ethical and transparent publication practices and comply with legal and regulatory requirements.
In order to combat the issue of inappropriate honorary and/or ghost authorship, it was decided at the meeting of International Rheumatology Editors in 2013 that ghost-authored papers submitted to any rheumatology-related journal would not be allowed. If authors are found to have breached the policy, a notice with the details of the ghost-written paper, the names of the responsible companies and the corresponding author will be published and the corresponding authors’ institute alerted to the violation. It is hoped that these actions will act as a deterrent within the rheumatology community.