In epidemiology it is not uncommon to see papers written by a bunch of authors on behalf of a research group (say "the X research group"). See, for example, this paper (randomly chosen from pubmed):

Moreira L, Pellisé M, Carballal S, Bessa X, Ocaña T, Serradesanferm A, Grau J, Macià F, Andreu M, Castells A, Balaguer F; on behalf of the PROCOLON research group. High prevalence of serrated polyposis syndrome in FIT-based colorectal cancer screening programmes. Gut. 2012 Sep 14.

My question is: are the members of the research group X (whose names and affiliations are usually reported in the Appendix at the end of the paper) considered as authors of the paper?

Edit: I am particularly interested to receive answers that apply specifically to epidemiology, but of course experiences from other fields are very welcome!

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    Considered authors by whom? Hiring committees? Funding agencies? Other researchers? – JeffE Sep 18 '12 at 14:26
  • I didn't know that different subjects had different definitions of authorship. I thought that one either is an author of a paper or is not, at least in epidemiology. Anyway, for example, do these publications count when calculating bibliometric indexes? – boscovich Sep 18 '12 at 14:50
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    If I saw that citation in the wild, I would assume that the eleven explicit names are the only authors. In computer science, all authors are named on the front page, very few papers have more than 10 coauthors, and not every member of a research group is a coauthor of every paper that the group generates. – JeffE Sep 18 '12 at 21:45

I'll give my perspective, as an Epidemiologist:

It depends. Helpful, I know.

Often the reason there's a "on behalf of the X group" is that some small analysis has been pulled out of a larger study, and the named authors on the paper want to acknowledge that their results are the byproduct of a larger effort. A large clinical trial, or cohort trial for example, can spawn dozens of papers and secondary analysis done by doctoral students, small component research groups, etc.

For example, this paper is (I think) the result of the "Epi proColon" clinical trial currently being conducted by the manufacturer. It's a head to head comparison with 'FIT' - fecal immunochemical testing - to detect colon cancer. The paper you linked is an ancillary analysis of that, noting a particular finding that, while of interest to the field and clearly enough for a short paper, wouldn't ever make the "main" paper cut when the results of the clinical trial are published.

@Raphael has asserted that he thinks there should be a difference between "I turned a skrew" and "I wrote the paper". The problem for Epidemiology studies is that's often somewhat ambiguous. For example, many clinical sites are directed by people who don't really care about publications, being professional clinicians, but are still instrumental enough in the conducting of the study that they could arguably be included as authors. If you only had one of these, sure, toss it in as authorship. But what if you're running a multi-site clinical trial at ten sites? Do you include all ten? After all, they saw patients.

The "group" authorship is a useful way to acknowledge that. They can cite those papers on grant applications, "why should we continue to support your diagnostic lab" progress reports, etc. It's a compromise position for trying to tighten up who is an author while at the same time supporting large, collaborative science.

Those authorship acknowledgements also serve to make something "the official position of X study group". You often see that in vaccine trials and the like.

That being said, unless I was a named author on the paper, I likely wouldn't include it on my CV if I was anything but a very new investigator. But part of the point of these papers is that who is a named author is a rotating list. The Epidemiologists write their epidemiology papers, the clinicians write clinical papers, the lab people write lab papers, the biostatisticians write...you get the idea. So everyone publishes named in their niche, but the group effort is acknowledged for the entire productive output of the study.

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In particle physics (and we have some very long author lists) they are.

Authorship rules are generally set out in the collaboration's Memorandum of Understanding (whatever it is called) and can sometimes call for odd things such as a paper being credited to someone who didn't even know it was being written but whose work calibrating some systematic effect of a minor subsystem a decade ago was used in the paper. That happened to me once, I checked inSPIRE and discovered I had a new paper out. Turned out to be a nice one, too.

To avoid that many of these documents have a "recent membership" type of clause so that you have to have been an active member of the collaboration in the last (typically) year to be credited. "Active" is defined by things like sitting shifts, attending collaboration meetings, contributing institutional funds to the general pool or hardware to the experiment and so on.

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    Do particle physicists explicitly list all the authors at the beginning of the paper? Or are there different grades of authorship (mentioned on the first page vs. in an appendix, for example), and if so do people make these distinctions or is everyone considered an author on a equal footing? – Anonymous Mathematician Sep 18 '12 at 19:08
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    @AnonymousMathematician They generally either list all authors at the front or sign it with the collaboration's name. When they use the collaboration name, there is generally some other resource you can use to figure out who was a member at the time of that paper--a web page or some such. Order in the list is rarely significant, but I have been part of groups where a few authors might be listed ahead of the usual list to indicate that they were especially involved in that paper. That is more common among smaller collaborations (say under 100 members). – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 18 '12 at 19:12
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    smaller collaborations (say under 100 members) — Yikes! – JeffE Sep 18 '12 at 21:41
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    @Raphael I guess the thing is this - it's not a 10 page paper. It's one of a series of papers. The data from those papers needs clinical staff, on the ground, seeing patients. WIthout that, there is no study, and its hard to claim that isn't an intellectual task, or one that requires no specialized expertise. Those people often also have input on the study design as a whole. The objection isn't supposed to be a strong one as much as I find it common with theoretical CS/Math folks that if they can't imagine needing a 25 person research team, there must not be a need. – Fomite Sep 25 '12 at 6:49
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    @Rapael I find that many people don't real comprehend how many person hours and how many specialized skills and analysis go into a particle physics experiment. It is worth noting that while our results papers are often three to ten pages long, most experiments will eventually release a instrumentation paper that may be fifty to a hundred pages long. There really is a need for scores or hundreds of people to get the work done. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 25 '12 at 12:47

I asked the guys at the library of my university about this issue and here is their reply. It looks like if I am member of the research group X, even if I am not among the names on the front page, it counts as a publication for me:

According to the ICMJE guidelines on authorship and contributorship (http://www.icmje.org/ethical_1author.html) you count as an author and will have the same rights and responsibilities regardless of your place in the author list.

Therefore, you also have the right to verify the publication as yours in the bibliometric system.

Again, we are talking about epidemiological research here.

Edit: To me, Anonymous Mathematician is right and the answer I got was meant to be read as: "If you fulfil the 3 ICMJE conditions, it does not matter if your name is written only in the appendix and not on the front page. You're an author just the same".

Edit 2: This is the answer from the library guys after I asked for clarifications

The part of the recommendations that you quote[*] concern who should be considered to be the author on a paper when it's sent to the journal. All the persons in the author list, even the ones that are in a group listed in an appendix, should fulfill all three requirements. If they don't they should be listed in the acknowledgement instead of the author list.

If this is not the case for your article, the responsible authors have not followed the guidelines.

[*] This is what I quoted:

"Authorship credit should be based on 1) substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3."

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  • My reading of the ICMJE link is exactly the opposite, that being a member of research group X who is not individually listed as an author means you are not an author. In particular, it distinguishes between "members of the group who are named as authors" and other members, and it says all individual authors should be identified in the submission. Being an author means accepting direct responsibility for the manuscript and giving approval for the version to be published; other group members may be mentioned in the acknowledgements as collaborators but aren't authors by ICMJE's definition. – Anonymous Mathematician Oct 4 '12 at 13:14
  • Maybe I have misunderstood, or common practice doesn't exactly follow the ICMJE guidelines, though. – Anonymous Mathematician Oct 4 '12 at 13:15
  • Yes, I have read again (and again and again) the ICMJE site and I share your skepticism. I'll try to contact the library again... – boscovich Oct 4 '12 at 13:18

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