Researchers’ Perceptions of Ethical Authorship Distribution in Collaborative Research Teams

Elise Smith, Bryn Williams-Jones, Zubin Master, Vincent Larivière, Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Adèle Paul-Hus, Min Shi, Elena Diller, Katie Caudle, David B. Resnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Authorship is commonly used as the basis for the measurement of research productivity. It influences career progression and rewards, making it a valued commodity in a competitive scientific environment. To better understand authorship practices amongst collaborative teams, this study surveyed authors on collaborative journal articles published between 2011 and 2015. Of the 8364 respondents, 1408 responded to the final open-ended question, which solicited additional comments or remarks regarding the fair distribution of authorship in research teams. This paper presents the analysis of these comments, categorized into four main themes: (1) disagreements, (2) questionable behavior, (3) external influences regarding authorship, and (4) values promoted by researchers. Results suggest that some respondents find ways to effectively manage disagreements in a collegial fashion. Conversely, others explain how distribution of authorship can become a “blood sport” or a “horror story” which can negatively affect researchers’ wellbeing, scientific productivity and integrity. Researchers fear authorship discussions and often try to avoid openly discussing the situation which can strain team interactions. Unethical conduct is more likely to result from deceit, favoritism, and questionable mentorship and may become more egregious when there is constant bullying and discrimination. Although values of collegiality, transparency and fairness were promoted by researchers, rank and need for success often overpowered ethical decision-making. This research provides new insight into contextual specificities related to fair authorship distribution that can be instrumental in developing applicable training tools to identify, prevent, and mitigate authorship disagreement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1995-2022
Number of pages28
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Authorship
  • Collaboration
  • Ethics
  • Misbehavior
  • Professional ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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