- Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then
- Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.
- Alexander Pope1
More than 50 years ago, Richard M. Hewitt, MD, then head of the Section of Publications at the Mayo Clinic, described the ethics of authorship in a JAMA article entitled “Exposition as Applied to Medicine: A Glance at the Ethics of It.”2 The following excerpts from Hewitt’s article demonstrate an appreciation of the basic ethical responsibilities and obligations of authorship:
Authorship cannot be conferred; it may be undertaken by one who will shoulder the responsibility that goes with it.
The reader of a report issued by two or more authors has a right to assume that each author has some authoritative knowledge of the subject, that each contributed to the investigation, and that each labored on the report to the extent of weighing every word and quantity in it.
If we would define publication of unoriginal, repetitious medical material as a violation of medical ethics, and would officially reprove it as such, the tawdry author would be silenced and the genuine one helped.
The by-line, then, is not merely a credit-line. He who took some part in the investigation, be it ever so minor, is entitled to credit for what he did…. Further, the generous chap who would bestow authorship on another, perhaps without even submitting the manuscript to him, may do his colleague no favor. For the investigation is one thing, the report of it another, and, sad the day that this must be admitted: The investigation may have been excellent but the report, bad.
Since all of us necessarily adopt and absorb the ideas of others, we must be scrupulous in maintaining the spirit of acknowledgment to others. Fundamentally, your integrity is at stake. Unless you make specific acknowledgment, you claim the credit for yourself for anything that you write. In general, it is better to say too much about your sources than too little.
The author who paraphrases or refers to an article should have read it.