In a recent investigation published in Nature, Ioannidis and colleagues found more than 9000 authors who published more than 72 papers in any one calendar year (between 2000 and 2016) – the equivalent of a paper every five days.
The group found that many of these authors (86%) were part of large international teams publishing in the field of physics. After excluding authors in physics (and those with names affected by disambiguation issues within the database used), a total of 265 authors were found to be ‘hyperprolific’. These authors were based across 37 countries, with the highest number (n=50) in the United States, and many were working in the medical or life sciences.
When asked how they became so productive, common themes were identified in authors’ responses, such as ‘hard work’, ‘extensive collaboration’ and ‘sleeping only a few hours per day’. However, when the researchers emailed 81 hyperprolific authors and asked whether they fulfilled the ICMJE criteria for authorship,70% of the 27 responders revealed that they did not meet at least 1 criterion more than 25% of the time.
While the researchers acknowledge that “hyperprolific authors might include some of the most energetic and excellent scientists”, they also flag that this phenomenon may arise from today’s ‘publish or perish’ pressures, the practice of awarding authorship for seniority, and the differing authorship norms across fields and teams. They suggest that adjusting widely used citation and impact metrics, for example by reducing author credit as the number of co-authors increases, may help to curb unwarranted authorship.