Unwarranted social work authorship: a partial solution is at hand.

Author:Thyer, Bruce A.

Professor Natasha K. Bowen (2013) has done an admirable job in bringing to the attention of the social work scholarly community the problem of inappropriate authorships. This problem can arise through a number of possible routes, ranging from benign ignorance to malignant misappropriation. These unethical authorships can occur when a legitimate author overgenerously grants coauthorship to a peer, to someone senior to them, to an academic or administrative supervisor, or to a friend. Unethical authorships can also be granted when a spurious author passively accepts coauthorship when it is unwarranted, perhaps awarded by a junior, by someone currying favor, or a legitimate author believing that having a more distinguished personage appear as a coauthor will enhance the professional patina of his or her paper. In some egregious cases, an overly acquisitive (usually) senior-level social worker (perhaps tenured!) implicitly or explicitly demands authorship of a junior colleague's work. Dr. Bowen proposes some suggested authorship guidelines for social work researchers, guidelines said to be potentially useful by potential authors, journal editors, social work program directors, and students. I think these guidelines are good. And bad. The good aspects are obvious. If adopted they would help mitigate the problem Bowen describes. Let me focus on why I think these are a bad idea, or at least, premature.

If we adopt Authorship Guidelines for Social Work Researchers as Bowen suggests, one can readily see similar guidelines emerging for psychologists, nurses, physicians, marriage and family therapists, and so forth. I publish in a variety of different disciplinary journals, and I often coauthor projects with nonsocial work academics and practitioners. Whose guidelines should we follow? The potential for conflicting standards is obvious. Having unique authorship guidelines for social work journals may inadvertently discourage distinguished nonsocial work researchers from introducing their work to our field. Some journals, such as Nature, provide extensive guidelines for determining authorship (see http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/authorship.html), which, among many other features, requires that all authors describe their particular contributions to a given manuscript being submitted. Such existing standards could be considered for potential adoption by social work journals, first, prior to reinventing the wheel. However, a partial solution is...

To continue reading