Using scientific authorship criteria as a tool for equitable inclusion in global health research
In 1985, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) created a standardised set of criteria for authorship. The central principle underlying these criteria is that authorship is an intellectual activity that entails contributions to ideas (eg, conceptualising a study and framing the research question), analyses (eg, formulating the analysis approach/framework and/or performing the actual analysis), writing (and revising the manuscript) and ownership (of the study or research project). The ICMJE criteria have been broadly adopted by biomedical and health journals, including those focused on global health research. They have also been revised over time to accommodate emerging issues and concerns: for example, recognising author roles such as data acquisition (2000 revision) and the need for all authors to be accountable for the work (2013 revision).
The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on meeting all the following four criteria:
- ‘Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
- Final approval of the version to be published; AND
- Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved’.
While these guidelines are widely accepted, compliance is limited and interpretations vary. They are also open to being used to exclude or to obscure the contribution of some authors, rather than an opportunity for inclusion and transparency. In this editorial, we highlight how the ICMJE criteria can be used proactively for author inclusion and not exclusion, in line with the recently published ‘Consensus statement on measures to promote equitable authorship of research publications from international partnerships’. We highlight the context of applying the ICMJE criteria in research partnerships between high-income country (HIC) and low-income and middle-income country (LMIC) teams. The power imbalances in such collaborations are well documented, in that HIC participants typically have more decision-making power based largely on their institutional resources and acquisition of funding. In this context, leaders of such research collaborations should pay particular attention to the ‘or’s in ICMJE criteria 1 and 2.
Sam-Agudu NA, Abimbola S, Using scientific authorship criteria as a tool for equitable inclusion in global health research, BMJ Global Health 2021;6:e007632.