Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1315–1329 | Cite as

Writers Blocked: On the Wrongs of Research Co-authorship and Some Possible Strategies for Improvement

  • Daniela Cutas
  • David Shaw
Original Paper


The various problems associated with co-authorship of research articles have attracted much attention in recent years. We believe that this (hopefully) growing awareness is a very welcome development. However, we will argue that the particular and increasing importance of authorship and the harmful implications of current practices of research authorship for junior researchers have not been emphasised enough. We will use the case of our own research area (bioethics) to illustrate some of the pitfalls of current publishing practices—in particular, the impact on the evaluation of one’s work in the area of employment or funding. Even where there are explicit guidelines, they are often disregarded. This disregard, which is often exemplified through the inflation of co-authorship in some research areas, may seem benign to some of us; but it is not. Attribution of co-authorship for reasons other than merit in relation to the publication misrepresents the work towards that publication, and generates unfair competition. We make a case for increasing awareness, for transparency and for more explicit guidelines and regulation of research co-authorship within and across research areas. We examine some of the most sensitive areas of concern and their implications for researchers, particularly junior ones, and we suggest several strategies for future action.


Ethics of co-authorship Philosophy Bioethics Research independence Publication ethics 



The authors would like to thank their colleague Kristien Hens for extensive discussions and valuable suggestions in the writing and re-writing of this paper. Daniela Cutas would also like to thank the many course participants with whom she discussed co-authorship during research ethics courses. Without them, this paper would not have existed.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious StudiesUmeå UniversitetUmeåSweden
  2. 2.Institute for Biomedical EthicsUniversität BaselBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of ScienceGöteborgs UniversitetGöteborgSweden
  4. 4.Department of Health, Ethics and SocietyMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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