Earlier this fall I blogged about the roles of academic librarian, and I asked the question: are we academic partners or service providers? (Of course, it is possible to be both, but I wanted to vent my frustration that we never seem to escape the role as someone who gives access to documents and nothing else.) In the blog post I wrote about what rights and responsibilities we (could) have as academic partners, and I wrote that if I give substantial support to researchers, let`s say do all the relevant literature searches for a systematic review, then I expect to be granted co-authorship.
Last week, a professor in medical statistics, Stian Lydersen, expressed an opinion in Universitetsavisa (independent newspaper for NTNU) that while he was co-author of lots of articles, he was not prepared to take responsibility for all content in a paper. (He was talking about academic dishonesty.) He said that his field of expertise is medical statistics, and he was perfectly able to take responsibility for crunching the numbers and presenting them in the paper, but could not always be held responsible for other content in the articles, as some of them fell outside his area of expertise.
This week, two professors at Molde University College state that it is his duty to take responsibility for entire articles where he has co-authorship. These two professors cite the Vancouver guidelines, that clearly states that all authors should be sufficiently involved to be able to take responsibility. The professors continue to state that this is important, otherwise you could end up with research errors that nobody will claim responsibility for. Publication points [Norwegian system awarding publication points, and thereby money to institutions] should not be used as currency, the professors say.
Well, my comment is: it`s already used as currency, and there is little to be done about this as long as we continue with this system. Publication rate is used as background for career advancement, prestige for researchers and money for the institutions. If experts, such as Professor Lydersen, cannot get co-authorship without taking full responsibility for each publication, it presents a problem for all parts. It will be a problem for the experts who can no longer get credit for substantial contributions, and unless he can keep up his publication rate on his own articles within the medical statistics subject, can risk halting his career and damaging his institute. It is a problem for authors who wish to write about important issues within their fields, but no longer has access to experts as Lydersen to help them present statistics in this professional manner. It is also a problem for institutes because they have to find (and pay for) experts who are willing to work for money instead of co-authorships.
It`s probably pretty obvious where I am going with this. If I, in the previously mentioned example, perform database searches for researchers writing a systematic review, I am doing a significant and time-consuming part of the study. I would, in this case, be perfectly able to and willing to take responsibility for any criticism connected to this, for example strategies, wording, selection etc. I could not, however, be supposed to take responsibility for the content or analysis of the articles in the study. I still think I should be granted co-authorship because it would be a significant contribution and partly determine which articles would even be subjected to analysis in the first place.
Publication points are already used as currency. Either we should completely change the system or we cannot in all fairness decide to exclude experts in supporting fields.