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Comments on another question pointed out that many medical journals require "written consent of any cited individual(s) noted in acknowledgments or personal communications".

I find this requirement exceedingly strange. In my own field (theoretical computer science), acknowledgements and citations of personal communications are just another form of citation. Just as ideas/results/techniques/data from another publication require citation, ideas/results/techniques/data from another human being require some form of acknowledgement. Otherwise, in both cases, the author is dishonestly claiming credit for someone else's work. An acknowledgement gives the person being thanked no more responsibility or credit for the work than a citation to one of their papers. A citation to "personal communication" is even more clearly equivalent to a paper citation.

Clearly attitudes toward citation and acknowledgement are different in medicine, and possibly in other fields; I'd like to understand why. Does being acknowledged by a medical paper imply some responsibility toward or endorsement of the content of the paper? Does acknowledging someone famous increase a medical paper's chances of being accepted or cited? Why don't the same issues attach to paper citations?

  • It not usual in mathematics either. But I remember one of my colleagues published a mathematics paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and for that she had to get such permissions. – GEdgar Feb 10 '16 at 15:02
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    I recall once having read that if there is someone that you don't want to review your paper (e.g., because the person is known to dislike the field of research), finding a reason for putting this person into the acknowledgements and doing so is a way to drastically reduce the risk of getting this person as a reviewer. Perhaps part of the reason for the rule in the question is to avoid this style of cheating. – DCTLib Feb 10 '16 at 15:22
  • @GEdgar Interesting. The PNAS submission guidelines don't mention this requirement. – JeffE Feb 10 '16 at 18:09
  • @JeffE Might have been spawned by the editor based on the wording of the acknowledgement? – Fomite Feb 11 '16 at 17:54
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    @DCTLib In my experience, both as an editor and as a referee, people who are acknowledged in a paper are more likely to be chosen as referees, especially if the acknowlegement indicates that the person has already read the paper. – Andreas Blass Feb 11 '16 at 20:02
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From the Lancet:

Acknowledgments — written consent of cited individual

From CMJA:

Authors should specify, in the acknowledgements section, contributions to the paper that should be recognized but do not justify authorship, for example critical review of the study proposal or assistance with statistical analysis. The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) requires that these people give their written permission for their names to appear in print.

From Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology:

Thank you notes. Persons should not be thanked in the Acknowledgments section without their knowledge and consent. Authors will be asked during the submission process to confirm they obtained permission from all persons thanked by name in the Acknowledgments section.

I suspect some of this is from the very defined notion of what constitutes authorship in medical journals, and the likelihood that someone who had some impact on the reported study would not make the authorship list. For example, the same ICJME that has developed the most widely used authorship standards also has this to say about non-author contributors:

Because acknowledgment may imply endorsement by acknowledged individuals of a study’s data and conclusions, editors are advised to require that the corresponding author obtain written permission to be acknowledged from all acknowledged individuals.

Basically, the assumption is that, by being acknowledged, there is the possibility that you could be seen as endorsing the findings of the study, and that erring on the side of caution, you should have to obtain permission before acknowledging someone.

This is even true for not medically-specific journals. Consider, for example, this entry from PLoS One:

Authors are responsible for ensuring that anyone named in the Acknowledgments agrees to be named.

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    So if someone dies before giving consent, they'll never be acknowledged... – Massimo Ortolano Feb 11 '16 at 7:41
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    @MassimoOrtolano In such an edge case, there's no reason not to contact the editor and talk to them about it. – Fomite Feb 11 '16 at 17:53

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