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Logo of jamiaJAMIA - The Journal of the American Medical Informatics AssociationVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2007 Jan-Feb; 14(1): 16–18.
PMCID: PMC2215071

Authorship versus “Credit” for Participation in Research: A Case Study of Potential Ethical Dilemmas Created by Technical Tools Used by Researchers and Claims for Authorship by Their Creators

James A. Welker, DO a , * and Jack D. McCue, MD b


The distinction between authorship and other forms of credit for contribution to a publication has been a persisting controversy that has resulted in numerous guidelines outlining the expected contributions of those claiming authorship. While there have been flagrant, well-publicized deviations from widely accepted standards, they are largely outnumbered by cases that are not publicity-worthy, and therefore remain known to only those directly involved with the inappropriate conduct. We discuss the definition and ethical requirements of authorship, offer a case example of the authorship debate created by a technical tool at our institution, and review parallels that support and dispute the authorship claims of our software developers. Ultimately, we conclude that development of a technical tool that enables data collection does not adequately substitute for contributions to study design and manuscript preparation for authorship purposes. Unless the designers of such a technical tool prospectively participate as a part of the project, they would not have an adequate understanding of the publication’s genesis to defend it publicly and cannot be listed as authors. Therefore, it is incumbent upon project members to invite tool developers to participate at the beginning of such projects, and for tool developers to contribute to study design and manuscript preparation when they desire authorship listings.

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