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Is it an ethical practice to offer co-authorship on a paper to a graduate student in exchange for proofreading the paper? By proofreading, I mean fixing small grammatical or spelling errors right before manuscript submission, not contributing significant comments to the experimental design or methodology that are later taken into account.

I ask because in my old lab we had several international students and several fluent English speaking grad students, and the fluent English speakers are listed as co-authors on several papers where they have contributed nothing more than small grammar corrections.

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    JK Rowling's editor isn't famous for a reason... – Alex Reinking Jan 25 '17 at 3:51
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    This is a form of gift authorship (use this as a search term on this site, you will find lots of related questions) and is quite clearly unethical. – Dan Romik Jan 25 '17 at 4:09
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    As a fluent English-speaking graduate student who has reviewed several papers, proposals, & theses for international students, the only thing I've ever expected (and received) was a "thank you" from the authors. Though one was nice enough to even thank me in the acknowledgements of his thesis. My point is, if someone had offered me coauthorship for that, I probably would have questioned the paper's content in the first place. – tonysdg Jan 25 '17 at 4:24
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    @AlexReinking Thank you, that was an enlightening read. My field is engineering, not medicine, but it seems to be quite prevalent in the engineering field as well. – bobthecoder Jan 25 '17 at 4:55
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I think this is professionally unethical. Other fields might have different views, but per the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, authorship is based on

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Since this graduate student has no intellectual stake in the work, this is basically lying. The fact that the student would benefit from a publication (and you, if you are their adviser) makes the conflict of interest all the more apparent.

The appropriate place for such a contribution is in the acknowledgements or not at all.

  • This is the normative answer. The ICMJE are also often referred to as the "Vancouver Protocol" and they are referenced from numerous other professions as well. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 25 '17 at 4:34
  • Thank you for the thorough response. I was not involved in any of these questionable activities, but it seemed unethical to me and I wanted to check to be sure. – bobthecoder Jan 25 '17 at 4:52

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