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Guest and Ghost Authors 

Guest and Ghost Authors
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Guest and Ghost Authors

At least 1 author must be responsible for any part of an article crucial to its main conclusions, and everyone listed as an author must have made a substantial contribution to that specific article.5 As described in 5.1.1, Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements, many journals require authors to sign statements of authorship responsibility and to indicate specific contributions of all authors. In addition to improving the transparency of author responsibility, accountability, and credit, these policies may help eliminate guest authors and identify ghost authors.14-16

Guest (Honorary) Authors.

Traditionally, supervisors, department chairs, and mentors have been given guest, or honorary, places in the byline even though they have not met all of the criteria for authorship. However, this custom is not acceptable because it devalues the meaning of authorship.14,17 The ICMJE guidelines state specifically that “general supervision of the research group is not sufficient for authorship” and that participation solely in the “acquisition of funding, collection of data, or general supervision” does not justify authorship.5 Such supervision and participation should be noted in the Acknowledgment (see 5.2, Acknowledgments). Guest authors have also included well-known persons in a particular field who have accepted money or other compensation to have their names attached to a manuscript that has already been researched and prepared by a ghost writer for an organization with a commercial interest in the subject of the paper.15,18 Such practice clearly is deceitful.14 Several studies have documented the prevalence of guest authors in biomedical journals ranging from 10% of research articles to 39% of review articles in journals that were not requesting authors to disclose their specific contributions.9,19

Ghost Authors.

Ghost authors have participated sufficiently in the research or analysis and writing of a manuscript to take public responsibility for the work but are not named in the byline or Acknowledgment section. Studies involving journals that did not require authors to disclose specific contributions found that the prevalence of research and review articles with ghost authors ranged from 2% to 26%.9,19 In biomedical publication, ghost authors have included employees of pharmaceutical companies (eg, researchers, managers, statisticians, epidemiologists), medical writers, marketing and public relations writers, and junior staff writing for elected or appointed officials.15 As described elsewhere, ghost writers have been hired by firms with commercial interests to write reviews of specific subjects and their authorship is not disclosed.14,15,17,18,20 Ghost writers are not necessarily ghost authors. For example, a writer may not have participated in the research or analysis of a study but may have been given the data and asked to draft a report for publication. If participants in the project do not meet all the criteria for authorship but have made substantial contributions to the research, writing, or editing of the manuscript, those persons should be named, with their permission, in the Acknowledgment along with their contributions and institutional affiliations, if relevant14,21 (see 5.2, Acknowledgments). Editors and authors should not permit anyone who has participated substantially to meet authorship criteria or any nonauthor who has made other important contributions not to be appropriately identified in the byline or Acknowledgment, respectively. (See 5.2, Acknowledgments, and 5.1.6, Changes in Authorship.)

To give proper credit to medical writers and authors' editors, journal editors should require authors to identify all persons who have participated substantially in the writing or editing of the manuscript. Substantial editing or writing assistance should be disclosed to the editor at the time of manuscript submission and mentioned in the Acknowledgment.14,21 (See 5.2, Acknowledgments.) Corresponding authors of JAMA and the Archives Journals sign a statement that all persons who have made substantial contributions to the work (eg, data collection, analysis, or writing or editing assistance) but who do not fulfill the authorship criteria are named with their specific contributions in an acknowledgment in the manuscript.

Journal editors and manuscript editors who substantially edit a manuscript to be published in a journal generally are not specifically acknowledged when their names appear in the journal’s masthead or elsewhere in the journal.

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