Stories abound of senior academics figuring in author lists despite not having contributed significantly to papers, but it is rare to see such authorship policies documented.
But an early draft of a “publication protocol” drawn up by University College London’s Evidence Based Practice Unit, written in May, stated that “as part of quality assurance for all peer reviewed research publications, papers will be reviewed by and receive input from both the [unit’s] director…and the research lead…who will, therefore, be named authors on all publications”.
The draft also included a provision that “if [a paper’s] lead author leaves the unit and [the] paper [is] not yet submitted [to a journal] the role of corresponding author passes to [the] relevant programme lead [within the unit] to ensure submission”.
In a statement, the unit admits that the draft “could give rise to misinterpretation” of its policy and subsequent versions had been corrected to make clear that “authorship credit will only ever be based on substantial contribution to the research”.
The statement says that the unit’s director and research lead are currently the only principal investigators in the unit, and “all staff are working on their funded projects”. Input on the new policy – due to be agreed by the unit’s board on 18 November – was sought from all unit members, none of whom had complained about it.
All the unit’s staff are employees of children’s mental health charity the Anna Freud Centre, where the unit is based, al though some also have honorary UCL contracts.
The statement says that the passage about retaining corresponding authorship relates to the fact that first authors had in the past left before seeing papers through to publication, causing the unit to “lose oversight over submissions”.
“Because of our dependence on extramural funding, quality control over material leaving the unit is critical to our continued success. The aim of this clause is thus simply to have someone in the unit who ensures that submission remains timely and high quality is maintained in a highly policy sensitive area. If the first author was able to take [the paper] forward and wanted to be the corresponding author, that could and indeed has been agreed in the past.”