credit and accountability: new authorship rules by ICMJE

The international consortium of medical journal editors (ICMJE) have issued a new version of their recommadations.The most important change is the addition of a fourth aspect to the list of authorship criteria. According to their motivation , this addition was inspired by cases of scientific misconduct investigation in which authors denied responsibility (e.g. “I didn’t participate in that part of the study or in writing that part of the paper; ask someone else”). According to the ICMJE, authorship requires:

1 | Substantial contributions to: the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

2 | Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

3 |Final approval of the version to be published; AND

4 | Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved

To my opinion, this addition is a good way to help researchers think about their role in the writing process: am I involved enough to justify an authorship?

However, denying responsibility of a case of scientific misconduct is in my book not the same as being responsible of the misconduct. This addition could lead to the situation where such a denial equals scientific misconduct. Isn’t that a bit to harsh? Also, the fourth criterion reflects your actions in a situation in the future, not the work that has already been done as is the case is criteria 1-3.  It is possible to compare your actions of the past to the criteria, but this is more problematic for the future. For example, a researcher might be willing, but unable to help in an investigation (e.g. change of lab). This might lead to several problems in the future, especially for young scientist who often change research groups. To make this fourth criterion work, the idea of the fourth criterion should lie in the willingness to help, the act of helping itself.