Re: “Two Minds with but a Single Thought …”
26 July 2016
03 August 2016
14 December 2016 (online)
We read with great interest your editorial on publication-related issues, which you have to deal with while managing your esteemed journals. As surgeons who derive pleasure from scientific writing, we could not agree more with what you wrote, with one exception: Your criticism of “equal authorship.” As per ICMJE guidelines, every author on the list should have contributed substantially, irrespective of his/her position on the list. However, academic institutions commonly acknowledge only the first and last names on the list when it comes to performance-based resource allocation, submission of a thesis, or any other kind of academic evaluation. Only the first and the last names count, the rest is considered academic fill-in. Even worse off are those whose names are listed in the acknowledgment section. In today's highly interdisciplinary world of research, this tradition feels outdated, but increasingly often creates the need for “equal authorship” statements. In complex clinical or experimental studies, there is usually more than one person who meets the “first author” criteria, but “the winner takes it all” (ABBA 1980). It allows us to propose that journals strictly enforce the ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) authorship requirements and make the individual contributions transparent (like many already do). Then, list author names in alphabetic sequence or at random, and make it very clear that the position on the list does not reflect any kind of ranking. We recall a senior colleague with hundreds of PubMed-listed publications, who insisted being listed second-to-last instead of third-to-last because he considered this highly relevant to an upcoming evaluation. Complex models have been proposed that award credit in terms of a portion of the impact factor according to a given author's contribution. These are mostly impractical and unduly emphasize the relevance of the impact factor, which in our small specialty is rather low anyways. “All authors are equal” would instantly eliminate those tedious discussions on whose name is where on the list. It would also eliminate the need for “equal authorship” statements, and there may be less “gift authorships” because there are no cheap coauthorships to give away any longer. Evaluators would have to accept that “only the first and last names count” is history and have to read the contributions section if they really want to find out what exactly a given author did. Every day, surgeons work within a necessarily steep hierarchy in the operating room, but at the same time, we all know that without the team effort, the best surgeon fails. But who contributes more: the surgical assistant, the perfusionist, or the anesthetist? He/she who collects the clinical data, operates part of the cases, or does the statistical analysis? Who cultivates the cells, runs the Western blot, or writes the discussion section? We know that there is no perfect solution, but being forced to select “the first” and “the last” certainly does least justice to the team. And in the meantime, why not have more than one first author?
- 1 Heinemann MK, Beyersdorf F. ‘Two Minds with but a Single Thought …’. Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2016; 64 (4) 273-274
- 2 Akhabue E, Lautenbach E. “Equal” contributions and credit: an emerging trend in the characterization of authorship. Ann Epidemiol 2010; 20 (11) 868-871
- 3 Tscharntke T, Hochberg ME, Rand TA, Resh VH, Krauss J. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLoS Biol 2007; 5 (1) e18