Dear Sirs,

We thank the editors of the TMIH for their recent response (Cairncross et al. 2013) to our editorial (Zachariah et al. 2013). We salute the pioneering and passionate position of TMIH in encouraging researchers from developing countries to be involved and recognised in co-authorship (Groener 2004). We also appreciate the positive recognition of operational research as a science that can build theories and seek truth similar to academic research. We thus tend to agree with the editors' first point that we had artificially separated operational research from academic research but would now see it as a continuum from pure ‘academic’ research to more practical ‘field or operational research’. They both attempt to find the ‘truth’ in their respective contexts.

However, we feel that there has been a misinterpretation of one of the key themes of our editorial, which we wish to clarify. The essence of our study was not to ask for a change or exemption from existing ICMJE criteria, but to apply them in a manner that is engaging and inclusive of programme managers and policy makers. The editors insist that all authors should be able to defend the intellectual content of the whole published work, and we agree with this full-heartedly. On the other hand, we have been misinterpreted as stating that programme managers and policy makers should only fulfil the first ICMJE criterion by being involved in the conception, design and granting permission for the study to become authors. We advocated and continue to do so, that programme managers and policy makers must also fulfil the second and third criteria by critically reviewing the article and signing off on the final version to be published, thereby indicating their willingness to defend its intellectual content. By so doing, their involvement does fulfil all three ICMJE criteria and is more than a ‘research per diem’.

The editors also suggest that programme managers and policy makers should promote and actively participate in operational research so as to inform decision-making. We again advocate that their participation as authors in the manner that we have outlined not only fulfils ICMJE criteria but, importantly, also increases the likelihood that the research findings will be used to change and improve policies and practice. Ownership of study results, based on active participation in operational research, is a powerful incentive to use those results. This is in contrast to many well-conceived research studies, which languish in the in-boxes of disinterested, harried managers.

In conclusion, we have not proposed to relax the criteria for study authorship or that granting permission alone should constitute authorship. Instead, we ask researchers to proactively engage programme managers and policy makers as co-authors, from conception of the idea through to publication, so that the results of operational research stretch well beyond the publication milestone to programme improvement and policy change. We have not asked for less from researchers and authors, but more.


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  • Cairncross S, van Asten H, Jaffar S, Junghanss T, Meyer CG & Van der Stuyft P (2013) The ICMJE authorship criteria: a response from the editors. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 18, 11621163.
  • Groener S (2004) The north-south divide in health research publishing: what can smaller journals do? Tropical Medicine and International Health 9, 935936.
  • Zachariah R, Reid T, Van den Bergh R et al. (2013) Applying the ICMJE authorship criteria to operational research in low-income countries: the need to engage programme managers and policy makers. Tropical Medicine and International Health 18, 10251028.