• Bioethics Commission of University of Barcelona
  • Facultat de Medicina i Ciències de la Salut
  • Campus Clínic, Planta 5ª, Ala Nord
  • Casanova, 143
    08036 Barcelona
  • (+34) 93 403 19 48
  • (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • International Research Projects Office (OPIR)
  • University of Barcelona
    Bosch i Gimpera Foundation
  • Parc Científic, Torre D. 4a planta
  • Baldiri i Reixac, 4-8
  • 08028 Barcelona
  • (+34) 93 403 53 93

Communiqué of the CBUB on possible ethical problems in scientific publications

The CBUB has recently discussed possible ethical problems that should be considered when publishing research results along with the recommendations issued by such institutions as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). So as to reduce the incidence of such problems in scientific communications, the CBUB has deemed it timely to issue the Communiqué below.

Issues regarding authorship

We must recall that the list of authors of an article serves to disseminate such authorship to the scientific community and those responsible for it. Therefore, including individuals as authors must solely be based on:

  • Substantial contributions made towards the conception, design, data gathering and/or analysis or interpretation of such.
  • Drafting the article or critical reviews with important intellectual contributions.
  • Approving the final version submitted for publication.

Mention must be made of this contribution, to a greater or lesser extent, in each and every one of these activities as regards the meaning of each person as author. Contributions to the necessary material for research, simply gathering data or generally supervising the research group will not justify authorship of an article.

The CBUB is aware that the aforementioned principles may lead to contradictions with the possible result of limiting the task of a researcher in a group to generating data, while reserving the other tasks to more senior or specialised members of the group, and also the right to grant some heads of groups to appear as authors simply because they are in charge of funding the study or approving publications.

The issues above have led us to consider the phenomenon of giving away authorship. Including individuals as authors without their meeting the aforementioned requirements may be seen as a gift to the head of a group or department (which unfortunately might be almost considered de rigueur) or to another researcher with the explicit or hidden intention of receiving a similar favor in return. In any case, this practice is ethically unacceptable.

It is also worth mentioning the consequences caused by resorting to individuals who draft articles and are not mentioned later. Obviously, if these are professional writers their names will not fit in with the list of authors, but if it is necessary to highlight their contribution, this should normally be at the end of the article.

It is also quite obvious that excluding authors who meet the aforementioned requirements from the list is unacceptable. As stated by the ICMJE, all those mentioned as authors should be worthy of it and all those who do not deserve to be mentioned should not be. It is also advisable to mention the various partial contributions in the “acknowledgements” section, usually at the end of the text.

Possible problems

Disputes may often arise as to the meaning of substantial contributions. In order to avoid these it is important to consider the issue of authorship from the very beginning and to continue this discussion openly as the study evolves, particularly if more people become involved. Consultation of the recommendations published by the ICMJE and COPE may help to solve problems related to the authorship or to reduce these occurrences.

It is also important to point out that all authors should have a chance to see the final version of the article before it is submitted for publication, so that they can reject the inclusion of their name if any disagreement arises. This could be very crucial in cases - fortunately rare ones - where an article is later retracted.


Please, download the communiqué in PDF format here:

Communiqué of the CBUB on possible ethical problems in scientific publications

November, 2009

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