Accommodating an Uninvited Guest: Perspectives of Researchers in Switzerland on ‘Honorary’ Authorship

  • Priya SatalkarEmail author
  • Thomas Perneger
  • David Shaw
Original Research/Scholarship


The aim of this paper is to analyze the attitudes and reactions of researchers towards an authorship claim made by a researcher in a position of authority who has not made any scientific contribution to a manuscript or helped to write it. This paper draws on semi-structured interviews conducted with 33 researchers at three seniority levels working in biomedicine and the life sciences in Switzerland. This manuscript focuses on the analysis of participants’ responses when presented with a vignette describing an authorship assignment dilemma within a research group. The analysis indicates that researchers use a variety of explanations and arguments to justify inclusion of what guidelines would describe as honorary or guest authorship. Fuzzy parameters such as “substantial contribution” lead to varied interpretation and consequently convenient application of authorship guidelines in practice. Factors such as the culture of the research group, the values and practice shaped by the research leaders, the hierarchy and relative (perceived) positions of power within research institutions, and the importance given to publications as the currency for academic success and growth tend to have a strong influence on authorship practice. Unjustified authorship assignment practices can be reduced to some extent by creating empowering research cultures where each researcher irrespective of his/her career stage feels empowered to confidently raise concerns without fearing adverse impact on their professional lives. However, individual researchers and research institutions currently have limited influence on established methods for evaluating academic success, which is primarily based on the number of high impact publications.


Authorship assignment Guest authorship Research integrity Qualitative research Switzerland 



This study was funded by the Käthe-Zingg-Schwichtenberg Fonds of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences received by Dr. David M. Shaw.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethics Approval

None necessary according to the Research Ethics Committee of Northwestern and Central Switzerland. This interview study was considered unproblematic from an ethical point of view.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Biomedical EthicsUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  2. 2.Division of Clinical EpidemiologyUniversity Hospital GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Health, Ethics and Society, Care and Public Health Research InstituteMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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