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Arbitration in authorship conflicts

Maurício PierroIn an article published in the journal Research Integrity and Peer Review, Canadian biologist Zen Faulkes proposed a new way of resolving disputes over the authorship of scientific articles: by establishing independent arbitration or mediation panels. According to Faulkes, such conflicts take up precious time for editors, who are not always able to manage disputes over the real contribution made by an author. He notes that the UK Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has established conditions and guidelines for adding authors to previously published articles, but observes that editors often feel their options are limited when the corresponding author—the person responsible for submitting the article—disagrees with the change.

Independent bodies or agencies, similar to the ethics committees that assess cases of misconduct, could provide quick and effective responses. In the model proposed by Faulkes, these organizations would be composed of individuals with different areas of experience, such as scientific communication, misconduct investigations, and conflict resolution, and could work with several journals at the same time, whenever requested by editors. Since the periodical is ultimately responsible for the decision, the mediation or arbitration process would serve as a recommendation to the journal.

“Discussions on authorship disputes often focus on prevention and rarely address how to resolve them,” wrote the biologist, who is a researcher at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA. According to Faulkes, when a dispute arises after a paper has been published, most existing guidelines recommend that authors work out the disputes between themselves. “But this is unlikely to occur, because there are often large power differentials between team members, and universities and funding agencies are unlikely to have authority over all of them.” He says that authorship disputes rarely go to court due to the costs involved.

Arbitration, he notes, has proved to be effective in resolving authorship conflicts in the film industry, where recognition is linked to prestige and money. “Credit for movie scripts is often settled by arbitration, and the final decision is usually made by the Writers Guild of America. The association has established rules for determining who gets credit, albeit with room for interpretation, like what ‘substantial’ means,” Faulkes explains on his blog.