Walsh said the current system of widespread ghost authors makes it more difficult to know if anyone in a study might have a conflict of interest.
He said he believes that the primary reason for ghost authors is that primary authors don't believe in sharing credit with, among others, grad students and postdocs.
Ghost authorship is essentially the opposite of honorary authorship, entailing a significant contribution to a manuscript without acknowledgment of that contribution.
The most well-known scenario involves a professional medical writer or an industry researcher who drafts an article on behalf of a pharmaceutical company but is not credited for this work.
Based on the previously discussed criteria, solely writing or editing a manuscript, for example, does not merit author status; involvement in the study design or data collection/analysis, approval of the final draft of the paper, and accountability for the entire work are also required.
Similarly, industry researchers who conduct a study and draft a report based on its results but do not approve the final version are technically not eligible for authorship, whereas a guest author who makes minor contributions to these steps and performs the approval is qualified.Some professors, he said, continue to have an attitude about their graduate students' work that "what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine." As a result, any comparison of departments may understate some departments' use of graduate students in publications, he said.As for his paper, Walsh said it had no guests, but some ghosts -- graduate students who helped with data collection.One BMJ survey found that such ghost authorship was present in approximately one-tenth of papers published in six medical journals in 2008.How does ghost authorship relate to the authorship guidelines established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)?Walsh said that when the work is submitted for publication, the grad students will be identified, so they will not be ghosts.In this article, we extend our previous discussion of the ethics of manuscript authorship to an issue that haunts both academia and industry: ghost authorship.(Lead authors were identified because they were listed as the contact person, or, where no contact was provided, because they were the first authors listed in disciplines that follow that convention for lead authors or the last authors listed in disciplines using that convention.) The papers covered a range of disciplines, a range of numbers of authors, and a range of highly cited and not cited at all.The new paper's authors found not only significant use of guests and ghosts, but wide variation by disciplines.Walsh said he believes that there are some generational changes taking place, with today's professors more likely than were those of previous generations to share credit with graduate students and others.But professors in some disciplines, particularly engineering, remain less likely to share credit with graduate students.