Accountability through Authorship

By Francesca T. Grifo

cover of the scientific integrity authorship documentAuthorship can be a confusing prospect. Projects can be large and complex with multiple teams contributing in diverse ways. That’s why EPA is issuing a best practices guide to authorship to help ensure the scientific integrity of the final products.

To qualify as an author, one must make a substantial intellectual contribution, write or provide editorial revisions with critical intellectual content, and approve the final version and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work. As the best practices say “Any individual who has met these criteria, independent of their rank, status or affiliation, should be named as an author. Any individual who has not met these criteria, independent of their rank, status or affiliation, should not be named as an author.”

The scientific integrity of a final work product can only be assessed if there is transparency surrounding the origin of its contents. Here is where conflicts of authorship arise. For example, how can we assess the quality of conclusions based on the analysis of a data set if the name of the person who undertook that work is missing from the authors because they were a contractor? What if someone is added because they are a supervisor but did not make a substantial intellectual contribution? What if an author has a financial conflict of interest that never came to light, because that person was not listed as an author on the document?

The primary takeaways from the best practices are that authorship is a reward and a responsibility, authorship should be talked about early and often, and all members of teams should be offered opportunities to make the intellectual contributions that would earn them authorship.

We hope the best practices will help prevent or resolve authorship issues or disputes, ensure the acknowledgement of individual contribution in EPA work products, and enhance our scientific integrity.

About the Author: Francesca Grifo, Ph.D. is EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer. She came to the Agency in November of 2013 with more than 30 years of experience in environmental science and scientific integrity, including serving as a senior policy fellow advancing scientific integrity and transparency with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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