19 Sep 2012

Writing as its own reward?: Report on the International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution

The IWCSA Workshop was held in May this year to discuss some of the emerging issues and problems surrounding authorship and attribution in scholarly publishing. With research impact and citation metrics playing a key role in many funding and grant applications, the need to increase the consistency and transparency in how collaborators, contributors and authors are identified and credited appears timely. Moreover, the changing landscape of dissemination has led to fluid formats and new channels where traditional practices may seem somewhat incongruent.

The Report from the workshop* identifies several challenges including:
  • Varied authorship conventions across disciplines;
  • Increasing number of authors listed on articles;
  • Inadequate definitions of authorship;
  • Inability to identify individual and distinct contributions;
  • and the need for new metrics that can capture new forms of scholarship and effort

One of the more striking statistics in relation to these issues is offered by Liz Allen at the Wellcome Trust, who reported that the number of authors listed on Wellcome Trust-associated genetics papers has increased nearly threefold between 2006 and 2010 (from 10.21 to 28.82). The potential for this kind of "author inflation" is also likely to increase as the number of largescale science consortium projects grows.

Some interesting solutions are presented, including the development of a common taxonomy for contributor roles and 'authorship' types in scholarly publications. This would help ensure standardisation and consistency across disciplines and help identify the weight of contributions in multi-author papers. Data and databases are  highlighted in particular as new units of scholarship that warrant attribution, and appropriate data citation standards would help support this. The authors also suggest developing a 'portfolio' approach to represent an individual's output and contribution, rather than the existing limited framework of metrics. No specifics are detailed in this regard, but no doubt elements such as altmetrics and qualitative measures could be incorporated. This approach could certainly prove valuable in capturing the richer and more diverse channels and roles inherent in scholarly publishing today, but the trade-off is that it may make at-a-glance quantitative comparisons over time or between researchers somewhat more tricky to distill. However if our current tools for measuring output are becoming increasingly disconnected from the new reality, perhaps this would not be such a great loss.


*IWCSA Report (2012). Report on the International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution, May 16, 2012. Harvard University and the Wellcome Trust. http://projects.iq.harvard.edu/attribution_workshop. Published 18 September 2012

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