A researcher should only be an author on a paper if they have contributed to it in a substantive way.
This piece offers an interesting reflection on how attitudes to authorship has changed in the last five decades from single author to multi author research outputs. This is an interesting discussion given the degree to which we have seen ghost/guest authorship increase. Documents such as the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, and the associated Authorship good practice guide, as well as the international guidance provided by COPE and ICMJE, provide guidance on who should be included as an author on an output, rather than merely being acknowledged. A deceased colleague was important for the development of an idea, would be acknowledged not credited as a co-author. The same would be true of a head of a centre or a person who secured funding for a project. Padding a list of co-authors who do not meet the authorship criteria is a breach of responsible conduct. We’ve included links to eight related items.
Guidotti also had interesting ideas on the authorship of scientific papers. Back in 1960, when he published his first paper, only those researchers who had had a significant role in generating the data were listed as an author, and it was not uncommon for the papers from PhD theses to have just one author because a PhD thesis was meant to be an independent piece of work. The community of scientists in any field of research was so small back then that people in the field would likely know that a first-time author was a PhD student in an established scientist’s laboratory.
In accord with this policy, my own PhD papers were single-authored, as were those of several of my lab colleagues. At first our thesis supervisor – a superb electrophysiologist called Allen Selverston – only signed papers from his lab when he had actually participated in collecting the data. However, shortly after I completed and published my thesis papers in the mid-1970s, it became almost unheard of to have single-authored papers from students and postdocs. So, in electrophysiology, as in other areas of biology, it became customary for lab heads to be the last author on papers from their lab. This progression has also been described explicitly for the field of meiosis (Zickler, 2020).