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As we write, all scientific journals have to respond to the detritus of the papers on the cloning of human cells published by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk and colleagues (1). Most of the discussion about this case has focused on the fraud allegedly perpetrated by the first author. However, as journal editors we are almost as concerned about the role that the coauthors played, or to be more precise, did not play, in vetting these papers. Scientific publication depends on authors to provide unbiased and complete reports of research. It is the responsibility of authors to do this, and we assume the integrity of the vast majority of authors. The self-policing among authors—each of whom is asked to state that he or she played a significant role in the publication and stands by the results—is one of the principal mechanisms journals have to protect against fraud.

Although, in the first year of our editorships of Arthritis & Rheumatism and Arthritis Care & Research we have not had to deal with a fraudulent publication, in the recent past we have seen instances of failure to disclose conflicts of interest, nondisclosed authorship, and other instances in which the lines of authorship have been blurred or other authorship guidelines have been violated. Each of these situations undermines the confidence in the science presented in a manuscript. Since Arthritis & Rheumatism and Arthritis Care & Research are ultimately responsible for the content of the journals, we take these issues very seriously, and hereby present specific expectations and guidelines regarding authorship, conflict of interest, and other responsibilities of authors.

Authorship

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

The reliance on authors, however minimal a thread to protect the integrity of published research, must begin with a good definition of authorship (2). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors defines an author as “… someone who has made substantive intellectual contributions to a published study …” (3). More specifically, this organization states that, “Authorship credit should be based on 1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3.”

This definition precludes adding an esteemed researcher's name to a manuscript to which he or she did not contribute substantially. The definition would also preclude omitting an individual's name in order to improve the chance for acceptance of a manuscript or to increase the viability of the publication once accepted, such as leaving off the name of an employee of a pharmaceutical company who would otherwise meet criteria for authorship.

We have encountered several instances in which someone other than the first or corresponding author of an accepted manuscript has been the de facto point of contact for that manuscript. These individuals have handled such sensitive matters as coordinating the completion and submission of author disclosure forms and communicating with the journals' copyeditors about final changes to the text, in effect signing off on the content. In at least one instance, the person attempting to serve as the point of contact for a manuscript was an employee of a pharmaceutical company sponsoring the study about which the manuscript reported, but was not listed among the authors.

In the future, the journals' editors and production offices will limit all communications about manuscripts to individuals meeting criteria for authorship. In the new disclosure form, we will require the first author to provide a list of all whose contributions to an article do not rise to the level of authorship, such as medical writers hired to polish manuscripts, and to explain the specific role any such contributors have played in the manuscript. This list will be included in the Acknowledgments section.

Summary of authorship guidelines

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES
  • All individuals who meet criteria for authorship should be listed as authors.

  • Individuals who do not meet criteria for authorship should not be included as authors.

  • Others who participate in the research or in manuscript preparation, but who do not meet authorship criteria, should be listed in the Acknowledgments.

  • All authors are responsible for the accuracy of the data and reporting of the data.

  • Editorial offices will not correspond with or accept correspondence from non-authors.

Conflict of interest and disclosure

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

Financial incentives can be a powerful force. In situations in which financial forces are potentially at play, authors need to be particularly attentive to issues of conflict and disclosure. In particular, pharmaceutical or other commercial involvement needs to be explicitly disclosed.

In response to increased concerns about disclosure of conflicts of interest, we are modifying our disclosure forms. At the time of acceptance of a manuscript, we will require each author to complete the entire author disclosure form him- or herself, and to indicate that he or she has done so by initialing each page of the form as well as signing the final page. The disclosure form itself will be amended to include a statement of the extent to which each author meets the various criteria for authorship as well as the financial conflict of interest information presently included.

Because the financial stake in the articles we publish about therapeutics can now be billions of dollars, we must ensure that our readers are aware of the roles that commercial sponsors play in each manuscript. Accordingly, in the interest of transparency, we will require that all manuscripts with commercial support include a statement in the Methods section describing these roles.

Of course, the integrity of the articles we publish depends not only on the issues with respect to authors discussed above, but also on the fair treatment of manuscripts by editors and reviewers alike. In turn, providing fair treatment requires that both editors and reviewers avoid potential conflicts of interest. In the interest of transparency, the journals' policies with respect to vetting such potential conflicts will be placed on each journal's Web site.

Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES
  • Any commercial involvement in research or manuscript preparation should be reported in the journals' disclosure of interest forms. Disclosure in the Methods section of a manuscript is also necessary if there was commercial support for the study upon which the manuscript reports.

  • Manuscripts will not be entered in the publication queue until all disclosure forms have been received.

Data and graphics accuracy

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

Finally, although we do not have the wherewithal to review raw data from each study submitted to the journals, we must ensure the integrity of the processed data we do publish. As part of doing so, we will limit the manipulation of figures submitted with manuscripts. The editors endorse the guidelines for digital images outlined by other journals (4, 5). These guidelines permit small changes in the tint or contrast of a figure. However, all panels of multipart figures must be handled in a uniform way, no essential element of a figure may be altered, and in figures depicting gels, full gels with all the bands should be shown, rather than just the portion with the band of interest. For more information, authors may consult references 4 and 5.

Simultaneous duplicate submission

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

We have had reports that manuscripts have been simultaneously submitted to one of the American College of Rheumatology's journals and another journal. Such simultaneous duplicate submission is not permitted by current authorship guidelines, and the prohibition is restated here.

Potential consequences of violations

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

We hope, but cannot guarantee, that the guidelines described above will reduce the probability that Arthritis & Rheumatism and Arthritis Care & Research face a situation of outright fraud, as well as the more subtle coloring of the literature that results when such issues as blurring the lines of authorship and hiding the role of sponsors occur. Failure to abide by these guidelines and expectations will be considered a serious issue. Potential consequences of violations include the following:

  • Warning letters.

  • Refusal to publish an article in question.

  • Retraction of a published paper.

  • A statement of loss of confidence. We retain the option to publish such a statement and the reason.

  • Notification of the author's primary institution.

  • Exclusion from publication in the journal for a specified time frame.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES

The reader will note that this is the third time since we assumed the editorships of the journals a year ago that we have added to the burdens placed upon authors. Certainly the Hwang case played a role; certainly the obfuscation of authorship that we have encountered did as well. However, concern for the journals' welfare is only part of the story. Concern for the welfare of patients with rheumatic diseases is at the root of these changes. We believe that the new treatments available for these patients are more effective than the ones they replaced, but we must be sure that that is so.

As editors, we must rely on the integrity of the submitting authors and the cross-examination inherent in the peer review process. We have confidence in this integrity in general, but wish to err on the side of prudence to guarantee the integrity of our journals as well.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Authorship
  3. Summary of authorship guidelines
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
  5. Summary of conflict of interest and disclosure guidelines
  6. Data and graphics accuracy
  7. Summary of data and graphics accuracy guidelines
  8. Simultaneous duplicate submission
  9. Summary of simultaneous duplicate submission policy
  10. Potential consequences of violations
  11. Conclusions
  12. REFERENCES