The Ghost Writer in Academics?


The title is quite evident of what i intend to say here. Ghost writing or honorary authorship have been a rampant problem in academics. I came across an increasing article in Science, calling for an end on giving such Honorary authorship in papers. They cite quite an interesting statistic for the percentage of honorary authors in six leading medical journals in 2008:

25% of research reports

15% of review articles

11% of editorials

What’s shocking is that the coverage of the journals! Only medical journals were used and that too the top-tier ones.However, they did find a significant decline in inappropriate authorship from 1996 to 2008 but such kind of authorship still remain a problem. This time honoured custom of publishing papers with honorary significant authors is highly unethical. As the principle reason of doing so, is to boost the chances of such papers to be accepted by those top-tier journals. This represents an interesting circular problem for the editors themselves.  An interesting follow up study would be to do it across a five year period and take top 10 journals in biology. I suspect the figures would be a lot high.

On an interesting note, sometime ago i came across an article by Jerry Coyne in his blog-Why Evolution is True, about the age-old but dying practice of the PI not putting his/her name on papers. According to him –

So while I have the chance here, let me repeat my mantra to professors and graduate students: If you’re a student, your advisor isn’t automatically entitled to put his/her name on your paper.  Providing funding and advice is not sufficient reason.  And if you’re a faculty member, don’t slap your name on your students’ papers if all you’ve done is given them advice and money.  They lose by it, for the work will often be attributed more to you rather than the student (this is known as “the Matthew Effect“). I deplore the proliferation of gratuitious multiple authorships as a strategy for scientists padding their c.v.s.”

In light of this, what do you all think? Should the PI’s not put their names onto such papers where they have just discussed/provided grant money to the students? OR, do you think for such thing to come to fruition, major changes need to take place?

More on this-


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