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Missing the Mark: A New Form of Honorary Authorship Motivated by Desires for Inclusion


As scientific teams in academia have become increasingly large, interdisciplinary, and diverse, more attention has been paid to honorary authorship (i.e., giving authorship to those not making a significant contribution). Our study examined whether honorary authorship occurs because of the desire to include all or many team members. Interviews with project principal investigators (n = 6) and early-career project members (n = 6) from 6 interdisciplinary environmental science research teams revealed that principal investigators frequently employed inclusion-motivated honorary authorship but that this practice had some negative impacts on early-career team members with less power and status, thereby undermining true inclusion of those from underrepresented groups. We believe our findings are of import not only for environmental scientists, but also for scholars who are interested in issues of authorship decision-making regardless of disciplinary affiliation.

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Portions of this research were conducted while authors Isis Settles and Sheila Brassel were at Michigan State University. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant SES-1449466 awarded to Kevin C. Elliott (PI), Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, Georgina M. Montgomery, Isis H. Settles, and Patricia A. Soranno; a National Science Foundation grant EF-1065786 to Patricia A. Soranno and Kendra Spence Cheruvelil; and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch Project no. 176820 to Patricia A. Soranno. We thank Claire Gonyo for her assistance in designing the interview protocol and conducting the interviews and Kristen Mills for her assistance with coding the interviews. We thank NiCole Buchanan and Ann Austin for their comments on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to Isis H. Settles.

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Settles, I.H., Brassel, S.T., Montgomery, G.M. et al. Missing the Mark: A New Form of Honorary Authorship Motivated by Desires for Inclusion. Innov High Educ 43, 303–319 (2018).

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  • Honorary authorship
  • Inclusion
  • Power and status
  • Interdisciplinary research
  • Research teams
  • Environmental science