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Guidelines for Pharmacotherapy Authorship

March 14, 2017

Inside the Journal

Pharmacotherapy occasionally receives inquiries from potential contributors about attribution of authorship. Regular readers of Pharmacotherapy know that the number of authors typically associated with a published article broadly lies between 2 and 10. Very few articles are signed by a single author (except for editorials and letters to the editor), and few articles carry an extensive list of authors (except for multicenter clinical trials or ACCP committee reports). This column discusses some guidelines for who should receive authorship on manuscripts submitted to Pharmacotherapy.

A transition has occurred involving issues of authorship in biomedical journals over the past few decades. No longer does a lone scientist conduct research and submit results to enlighten a field of scientific inquiry through a process of sole discovery. Rather, almost all biomedical research funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Administration, and many other foundations is now conducted by teams of investigators and support staff. These investigators often ask whether to include key personnel or staff on manuscripts reporting research results. The guiding principle for authorship is that all persons who contributed significantly to a body of scholarly work should be recognized as an author, or appropriately acknowledged, and no one should be excluded who made a substantial contribution. More specific guidelines are available from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) at www.ICMJE.org.

ICMJE is a small working group of 13 leading medical journals and institutions that includes JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), the New England Journal of Medicine, and the National Library of Medicine. ICMJE develops recommendations for the conduct, editing, and publication of scholarly work. Journals that follow ICMJE recommendations, including Pharmacotherapy, are listed on its website.

ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on four criteria:

  1. Making substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; and
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and
  3. Giving final approval of the version to be published; and
  4. Agreeing to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Persons who do not meet all four criteria above can be noted with an acknowledgment as non-author contributors.

Should the principal investigators for a project be allowed to include residents or postdoctoral fellows as authors to assist in their career development? Not unless they meet all four of the above criteria. Research staff following a protocol may have made limited creative or intellectual contributions to a body of work and should not be considered an author. Moreover, the scenario of large research groups granting courtesy authorship to the laboratory or department head has fallen into disfavor with editors and publishers. Why does authorship matter? Authorship is an important designation with social, academic, and financial implications.

Unfortunately, the order of authorship does not always signify the quantity and quality of an individual's contribution. Sound advice for researchers at any stage of their career is to discuss authorship early in the process of an evolving scientific project and to continue doing so as the work progresses to completion. Some journals publish a statement of each author's specific contribution to the work, but this is not an ICMJE recommendation. Pharmacotherapy does not require each author to list the type of contribution made with a manuscript submission; however, it does require a disclosure statement regarding potential conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest will be the topic of a future column.

Pharmacotherapy strives to maintain the highest standards of scholarship, publish only original unpublished work, and ensure for the readership a rigorous peer review process that results in meaningful content to advance human pharmacology and drug therapy. Accuracy and clarity in authorship is an important part of publishing manuscripts in the official ACCP journal.