Moving from Authorship to Contributorship in Scholarly Publications: An SSP 2014 session

Moving from Authorship to

This post is written by Jeffrey Beall and summarizes his opinions related to a session held at the SSP 2014 meeting. 

In late May, 2014, I attended the annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) in Boston, Massachusetts. One of the panel presentations I observed and found interesting was called “Understanding Contributor Roles in Scholarly Publications.” The panelists included Veronique Kiermer of Nature Publishing Group, Josh Greenberg from the Sloan Foundation, Micah Altman from the MIT Libraries, and Amy Brand from Digital Science.

The panelists explained that authorship statements in scholarly articles are problematic because they are ambiguous and don’t convey enough needed information. They explained the benefits of switching from traditional authorship statements to contributorship statements. These statements would clearly indicate the role of each of the paper’s various contributors.

To clarify, here is an actual contributorship statement taken from a latest article in Nature, a journal that provides contributorship statements in addition to author statements:


M.Z. proposed the experiment, compiled the data and performed most of the analysis. E.C.-B. wrote most of the main text and contributed to the theoretical analysis and implications of the work. T.S. contributed to the analysis and discussion of the data, and A.T. contributed to the theoretical analysis and implications of the work. All authors contributed ideas, discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

In the article, the contributors’ total names and affiliations show up before the contributions section. Without clear contributor statements, the only real information that can be derived from a list of authors is author order, but this means different things in different fields. For example, in some fields, being very first author might signal having made the greatest contribution to a paper, but in others, being the last author might indicate a chief role.

As collaboration or teamwork becomes more common and more significant in scientific research, the average number of authors listed on a typical scientific paper is enhancing. Thus there are some benefits to more clearly stating each contributor’s role in the production of the scientific paper.

Also, clarifying these roles will facilitate managing the intellectual property aspects of published works, will help in the management of publication ethics, and will help in more precisely assigning academic credit, such as that given towards promotion and tenure.

A duo of the panelists from the SSP meeting are participating in a committee to develop a taxonomy of contributorship terms, an effort that would help standardize the words and phrases used in contributorship statements.

In the coming years, we’ll likely see fuller implementation of contributorship statements in scholarly journals, so if you participate in the production of a scholarly work, be ready to precisely describe your role in the overall production of the manuscript.

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