Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Leslie D. McIntosh. Leslie is the founder and CEO of Ripeta, a company formed to improve scientific research quality and reproducibility. The company leads efforts in automating quality checks of research manuscripts and is a recipient of funding from Digital Science. She served as the executive director for the Research Data Alliance (RDA) – US region and as the Director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Washington University School in St. Louis. Over the past years, Leslie has dedicated her work to improving science. Since 2014, this has focused on highlighting the need for reproducible science, then on transparently reporting science, and now on the need to build trust in science. She holds a Masters and PhD in Public Health with concentrations in Biostatistics and Epidemiology from Saint Louis University and a Certificate in Women’s Leadership Forum from Washington University Olin’s School of Business.
Many of us make judgements about whether to read a paper or other output on the basis of the listed author. But in these days of imposters, paper mills and other fraudulent scholarly work, are we really safe making any prejudgement? We have included links to two related items.
An ‘author’ refers to ‘the creator or originator of an idea’ which ‘conveys significant privileges, responsibilities, and legal rights’ (see COPE’s “What Constitutes Authorship?”). Some journal and society guidelines explicitly prohibit the use of fictitious author names in publications, yet challenges in the integrity of authorship continue to surface – through paper mills, fake peer-reviewers, and non-existent co-authors within published papers. Although we are in need of aggregated trend data on the extent of such cases, we now have evidence of what I call imposters and impersonators in preprint authorship.
Imposters, by definition, are not who they say they are; they are a fictitious persona, not based on a known person. An impersonator, on the other hand, takes the identity of another and uses it as their own. Both operate within the realm of science yet produce different consequences. An imposter produces scientific-looking work ostensibly to have an idea treated as trusted research. An impersonator also does this but under the mask of a known, credentialed individual. Both actors may contaminate scientific processes, discussions, and outcomes, but the impersonator also potentially damages the reputation of a verified scientist.