Authorship is defined as the process by which the results of original research are translated to published form to facilitate the communication of new knowledge to the professional community.
Authorship Dispute is defined as conflict among collaborators which does not meet the definition of Research Misconduct, and which may include 1) who should be named as an author/contributor; 2) order of authorship; 3) expectations for contributors to a project; or 4) intellectual property or confidentiality issues affecting publication.
Plagiarism is defined as the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
Authorship Disputes vs Plagiarism
The federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) explains that:
Many allegations of plagiarism involve disputes among former collaborators who participated jointly in the development or conduct of a research project, but who subsequently went their separate ways and made independent use of the jointly developed concepts, methods, descriptive language, or other product of the joint effort. The ownership of the intellectual property in many such situations is seldom clear, and the collaborative history among the scientists often supports a presumption of implied consent to use the products of the collaboration by any of the former collaborators.
Therefore, many times when an allegation of plagiarism is made, it is better categorized as an authorship dispute, which does not fall under the definition of research misconduct. To prevent issues related to authorship, authorship expectations should be discussed between collaborators at least prior to the onset of a project, and ideally throughout the collaboration. An authorship and data sharing template is offered below as a resource for UNL personnel to utilize in preventing authorship disputes.
The following examples and information are provided for further guidance and context:
Below are two examples that highlight the differences between plagiarism and authorship disputes.
EX 1: Dr. Herbie uses multiple verbatim passages from other articles without properly acknowledging that they were not Dr. Herbie’s own words. This appears to be a plagiarism issue that should be addressed pursuant to the UNL Research Misconduct Policy.
EX 2: Dr. Herbie and Dr. Husker previously collaborated on a research project. They developed the idea and performed the initial experiments together. However, they had a disagreement, and Dr. Herbie continued to develop the project without Dr. Husker. Several years later, Dr. Husker sees that Dr. Herbie has published an article on the same topic on which they collaborated several years ago. Dr. Husker is not a coauthor on the article and is not mentioned in the acknowledgements, but feels that they should receive “some sort of credit” for their work on the early project. This situation is most likely an authorship or acknowledgement issue rather than a plagiarism issue.
Acknowledgement vs Authorship
Not every contribution justifies authorship. Below are some examples of contributions that might merit acknowledgement but might not merit authorship. Collaborators should have discussions on acknowledgement and authorship prior to initiating the project so that expectations are clear.
- provision of standard materials (e.g. plasmids, cell lines, tissue, and antibodies)
- performance of incidental assays or measurements
- providing access to subjects or providing an environment and/or financial support for the research
- collecting or analyzing data in a routine format
- chairing or advising a dissertation or thesis committee
- contributing to the general intellectual development of one or more authors
Below are two examples that highlight the differences between acknowledgement and authorship. In each situation, the collaborators did not discuss authorship expectations before beginning their respective research projects.
EX 1: Dr. Herbie has their student draft the methods and results section of an article because their student conducted the experiments discussed in the article. When the article is published, the student is listed in the acknowledgements as a member of Dr. Herbie’s lab but is not listed as a coauthor. When the student asks Dr. Herbie why they were not included as a coauthor, Dr. Herbie says “all you did was perform the experiments and analyze the results, so those were the sections I had you write up. I wrote the rest of the article and handled submitting and revising it, and I was the one who supervised you and reviewed all of your work. You didn’t make any significant contributions to this paper.” This situation seems likely that the student DID actually make contributions that warranted authorship and just an acknowledgement may not be sufficient.
EX 2: A student is preparing to submit an article for publication. Dr. Husker, as the student’s adviser and chair of their dissertation committee, offers to read the draft and provide feedback. When the student receives Dr. Husker’s feedback they notice that, in addition to leaving a few comments on the text of the draft, Dr. Husker has removed themselves from the acknowledgments and listed themselves as an author on the article. The student talks to Dr. Husker, who indicates that because they provided feedback to the student and because they are their adviser/chair of their dissertation committee, they are entitled to coauthorship. Dr. Husker notes that “even if I hadn’t given you any feedback, I should still be a coauthor on all articles that come out of projects in my lab.” This situation seems likely that Dr. Husker may not have made contributions that warranted authorship and an acknowledgement may be more appropriate.
Authorship concerns and/or disputes should be communicated and ideally dealt with responsibly and amicably between collaborators. If a dispute arises that cannot be resolved, such disputes should be raised with the applicable Department Chair and/or College administration. Because these situations do not fall under the definition of research misconduct, the Research Integrity Officer and Research Compliance Services can help connect or clarify certain aspects, but ultimately will refer such concerns or disputes to the Department/College.