Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Frequently, when work is done at the request of an organization, government agency, or private firm, and published for public distribution, no author or editor is listed.

May 27, 2014

This blog is not about awarding credit for academic work. Rather it concerns assigning author credit to reports that are published by many organizations. My comments relate to the field of higher education, although the situation is common in many areas. Of course, when a person does research or analysis and publishes the work in a journal or a book, he or she is listed as the author. Frequently, when work is done at the request of an organization, government agency, or private firm, and published for public distribution, no author or editor is listed. The situation varies and there seems to be no norm. I am not arguing that organizations are conspiring to withhold recognition — rather, I suspect, longstanding institutional cultures may be responsible.

It seems to me that in all cases where research or analysis is published for public distribution, the author or editor should be prominently listed—just as credit would be given in a book, book chapter, newspaper, or journal article. What could be the argument for either not listing the author or hiding the author’s name in small part as a “credit” or “acknowledgement” section, usually in tiny print?

Agencies that commission research or analysis and often pay the researchers and authors have the legal right to use the work in any way they wish, and have the authority to credit the work as they see fit. But it does not seem justified to withhold author credit from those who do the work. “Work for hire,” as it is often called, is just that, and those who actually do the work are treated like assembly line workers rather than intellectual producers of valuable knowledge. There is a difference between working on the production of an automobile, however elegant the product, and producing a published document.

A series of reports produced for a recent international event provide some relevant examples. The reports, all quite interesting and valuable for an international higher education audience and available without cost, have varying author credit. One of these documents lists the authors only in an acknowledgements section, and in very small print. Another document lists the author on the cover—as well as the author’s university logo. Yet another publication lists no authors or editors, and acknowledges no one for putting together the publication. These inconsistent practices are quite common. The worst, and perhaps most frequent, are either omitting the name of the author or putting relevant names in tiny print, often obscuring who did the work on the document or report. Perhaps a small change in whatever contract or agreement that is signed relating to a project could include a clause that would guarantee full authorship credit to those who actually did the work.

My point is that I can see no reason whatsoever that credit is not given for work performed and made public. Indeed, such credit would permit others interested in the research to contact those responsible for the work—and would permit critics to know who to criticize other than the sponsor and funder of the work. Just because work is done at the request of and often with the financial support of an organization, it does not mean that those who do the actual work should remain anonymous. Those sponsoring research should give credit where credit is due. 


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