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PLoS One. 2019 Jan 16;14(1):e0198117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198117. eCollection 2019.

Intellectual contributions meriting authorship: Survey results from the top cited authors across all science categories.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Department of Electrical Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.


Authorship is the currency of an academic career for which the number of papers researchers publish demonstrates creativity, productivity, and impact. To discourage coercive authorship practices and inflated publication records, journals require authors to affirm and detail their intellectual contributions but this strategy has been unsuccessful as authorship lists continue to grow. Here, we surveyed close to 6000 of the top cited authors in all science categories with a list of 25 research activities that we adapted from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) authorship guidelines. Responses varied widely from individuals in the same discipline, same level of experience, and same geographic region. Most researchers agreed with the NIH criteria and grant authorship to individuals who draft the manuscript, analyze and interpret data, and propose ideas. However, thousands of the researchers also value supervision and contributing comments to the manuscript, whereas the NIH recommends discounting these activities when attributing authorship. People value the minutiae of research beyond writing and data reduction: researchers in the humanities value it less than those in pure and applied sciences; individuals from Far East Asia and Middle East and Northern Africa value these activities more than anglophones and northern Europeans. While developing national and international collaborations, researchers must recognize differences in peoples values while assigning authorship.

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