The idea of authorship could be abolished in many academic disciplines, with researchers instead listed as “contributors” in “movie-style credits” at the end of a published paper, a leading university group has suggested.
Calling for more transparency on the roles carried out by researchers listed on scholarly papers, the advice paper from the League of European Research Universities (LERU) proposes that the notion of an author has become obsolete in those research fields where dozens of authors—or sometimes hundreds—are listed on a published paper.
In one of several bold proposals, it suggests the “role of authorship completely disappears.”
Instead, “there are only contributors, and each contribution is clearly described,” says the paper, adding, “This would resemble the credits shown at the end of a movie, where every function is listed.”
While acknowledging that “this concept might feel to be too far away from realization to be practical at present,” the paper explains this would help to solve disagreements about who qualifies for authorship and who is listed as a contributor, or in acknowledgments, or not at all.
“The advantage of this system is that the cutoff for authorship versus contribution, or versus acknowledgment, disappears: every contribution is described in detail and credited, also the ones that were of a supportive or analytical nature that would normally not qualify for authorship,” it explains.
Frits Rosendaal, professor of clinical epidemiology at Leiden University, who co-authored the LERU paper, admitted that some of the group’s members considered the proposal “a little wild,” but he believed it “made sense” for some disciplines where the concept of authorship has been stretched to a breaking point.
“For some disciplines, like philosophy or language science, where the author is wordsmithing the paper, authorship is still important. In others, the idea of an ‘author’ holding a fountain pen above a page has blatantly gone,” Rosendaal explained.
“In my own field, you might have many authors listed on a paper, but the words are simply there to guide you to the tables of data in the paper. In some respects, researchers are more ‘reporters’ of what we see, not ‘authors.’”
The advice paper also suggests that each contributor could be given a paragraph at the end of a paper to describe their contribution in their own words.
“Science should not be treated like a football match where someone wins,” said Rosendaal. “It’s more like the Royal Philharmonic, where people come together to produce a piece of music. You need everyone, and even the person who plays the triangle should be named in the program.”