Despite attempts at clear direction in international, national and journal guidelines, attribution of authorship can be a confusing area for both new and established researchers. As journal articles are valuable intellectual property, authorship can be hotly contested. Individual authors' responsibilities for the integrity of article content have not been well explored.
Semi-structured interviews (n = 17) were conducted with staff, student advocates and doctoral candidates working in health research in two universities in Australia. Stratified sampling ensured participants reflected a range of experience across biomedical, clinical and social science disciplines. Participants were asked about their experience with research publication and their views on the responsibilities of authorship.
Participants gave a variety of reasons for attribution of authorship including: writing the paper; seniority; and student supervision. Gift authorship was seen by some participants as: a way of maintaining relationships; a reward; a means to increase a paper's credibility; or a demonstration of collaboration between authors. Norms and beliefs differed markedly between disciplines for authorship attribution and, to a lesser extent, for authors' responsibility for content integrity. Discussions about the effect of power differentials on authorship were common across disciplines.
This paper describes a broad range of beliefs, values and practice norms held by health science researchers with respect to attribution of authorship and author responsibility for scientific publications. The findings support the need for clarity in relation to authorship, and a research environment which is supportive of ethical behaviour in the publication of research.