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Can Assoc Radiol J. 2009 Dec;60(5):231-6. doi: 10.1016/j.carj.2009.09.001. Epub 2009 Oct 9.

Honorary coauthorship: does it matter?

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McGill University Radiology Residency Program, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



To examine the perception of honorary coauthorship among medical academics and to determine whether a potential effect of honorary coauthorship exists on patient care.


Corresponding authors of every fourth primary research paper published in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association (2001-2003), Canadian Medical Association Journal (2001-2003), British Medical Journal (1998-2000), and Lancet (1998-2000) were surveyed electronically. Questions were focused on each author's personal experience and perception of honorary coauthorship.


Sixty-five percent of corresponding authors responded (127/195). Fifty-five percent of respondents had published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 52% had been listed with an honorary coauthor at some point in their career. Eighteen percent of respondents had been required at some point to list authors who had provided data via a commercial relationship. A majority of authors believed that there were potential negative effects of honorary coauthorship for both the authors themselves (73%) and for their coauthors (83%). These negative effects included personal liability for honorary authors (29%) and dilution of relative contribution for their coauthors (54%). Sixty-two percent of respondents said that honorary coauthorship may have a negative effect on patient care; however, only 2% had been involved in a case in which this phenomenon had actually occurred.


Honorary coauthorship remains prevalent in the medical literature, even among highly published authors, and has the potential to negatively affect patient care. Respondents believed that a number of possible negative consequences of this phenomenon exist for honorary authors, their coauthors, and patients. Efforts to understand the true influence of honorary authorship on patient care may help further curb this practice in the literature.

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