Authorship and Publishing: a recap of the Research Integrity Forum (Dan Bendrups)

Photo courtesy of Barbara Doherty
On Thursday last week, as part of Academic Writing Month, La Trobe held its first Research Integrity Forum (organised by the Ethics, Integrity and Biosafety team and the RED Unit).

The theme of the forum was ‘authorship and publishing’, which taps into important questions around issues such as plagiarism, appropriate attribution, authorship.

The discourse of academic integrity is a fixture in the twenty-first century university, and has particular nuances when considered in terms of research.

On the one hand, codes and rules exist to govern and promote research integrity, largely aimed at protection from (and prevention of) harm arising from research. However, research integrity is also an approach or state of mind; something arrived at by free choice, rather than compulsion. As Bruce Macfarlane states in his book Researching with Integrity (2009, p.3): “Developing an understanding of what to do is always a more challenging prospect than issuing edicts about what is not right.”

La Trobe has made important progress in addressing research integrity through investment in new technologies (such as iThenticate) and creating tailored resources (such as RED's module for graduate and early career researchers, GRO: Research Integrity).

Last week’s forum provided a further space for discussions around integrity to happen in an open, interactive way.

DVC Research Prof Keith Nugent gave an opening address, speaking to some of the challenges we face in determining what to do, given that different disciplines can have very different traditions about appropriate practice even on seemingly straightforward matters like co-authorship. Where some disciplines consider the first author to be the most important, others simply list authors alphabetically. And that’s without even getting into the discussion of who gets to be credited as an author in the first place!

Thankfully, we had assembled a panel of experts form across the University and representing scholars at various career stages, from graduate researcher to full professor. A/Prof Jill Murray (Law) was our host, deftly weaving a conversation between (in alphabetical order) Lisa Amir (Judith Lumley Research Centre), Nick Bisley (la Trobe Asia), Philip Broadbridge (Mathematics), Grant Drummond (Physiology, Anatomy and Microbiology), Kerry Nixon (History) and Julie Rudner (Planning), as well as researchers in the audience of around seventy.

The panel discussion was arranged into three broad, sometimes overlapping themes: authorship, attribution, and publishing (subtitled ‘what keeps editors awake at night’). These became the starting points for a range of important questions. Some were preconceived, and some emerged from the floor: What factors guide including, exclusion, ordering and acknowledgment of authors in a given publication? How do we respond to issues like ‘ghost’ authorship, ‘gift’ authorship, or misappropriated work? What is self-plagiarism and how do we avoid it?

Unsurprisingly, the answers to these questions were varied, and complex. Some of the panellists were able to speak from the perspective of their experience on editorial board or as journal editors, and gave consistent advice.

First, many journals now use text matching software and other tools in their review process, and some also ask every author to stipulate the nature of their contribution before an article will be released. If an editor picks up an anomaly through such processes, they will say so. If you have doubts about some aspect of a publication, raise them within your research team or with your research leaders at discipline level first.

Second, when it comes to decisions about co-authorship, make arrangements at the start of a project, not just when it comes time to publish. Develop your own methods, appropriate in your discipline, for guiding what a 'reasonable contribution' to a paper might look like. Some scholarly societies and discipline groups publish guidelines about co-authorship, which are easy to find online and can be adjusted to your circumstances.

While national and institutional guidelines for research integrity exist, most of our day-to-day decisions happen at an individual or even discipline level.

There will always be a need for discussion around these issues, and we hope that future research integrity forums will provide a suitable place for further discussion.