Researchers commonly use the phrase “publish or perish” to describe the pressure associated with scientific publishing. In recent years, scientists have spoken out about the sometimes-toxic culture that demands researchers have more citations and more publications, especially in “high-impact” journals.
Undeserved authorship is a form of research misconduct, so the reported situation is troubling. Guest or honorary authorship is never OK. To be listed as an author, an individual needs to meet the accepted levels of contribution to a research output. These are described in national documents, such as the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and in international documents, such as the COPE and ICMJE guidance. This is troubling for a couple of reasons: 1. Junior academics are being pressured into including undeserving colleagues as co-authors. 2. This teaches the junior academics that such authorship manipulation is acceptable.
In Spring 2022—under the hashtag #pleasedontstealmywork—dozens of Danish PhD students shared their experiences with “guest authorship.” Unfortunately, this new international study, led by the University of Copenhagen, has revealed those stories are only the tip of the iceberg.
“There are major differences across faculties, but our study shows that around a third of all PhD students working in five different European countries have granted a co-authorship to a more powerful researcher, even though the person had not made a significant contribution to the study,” said first author Mads Paludan Goddiksen, postdoc at the University of Copenhagen.