It is important that every author of a contribution be credited as such. It is equally as important that a person not be named as an author when he or she is not.
What identifies a case?
Ghost, guest or gift authorship
A ghost author is someone who is omitted from an authorship list despite qualifying for authorship. A guest or gift author is someone who is listed as an author despite not qualifying for authorship (Source: Committee on Publication Ethics, "How to spot authorship problems", 2008).
Test for authorship
Authorship is not a clearly defined concept. To be an “author” one must have responsibility for a particular aspect (that is not minimal) of the research or preparation of the work, that is, must have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution or interpretation of the reported study, and must have approved the final form of the work. Fundamentally, an author must be prepared and have the ability and responsibility to publicly defend the work. You may wish to use the following standard as a test for authorship: All Authors of a paper have the ability and responsibility to publicly defend that paper. A trivial contribution would not be sufficient to confer the status of author. Lesser contributions to a work can be recognized by clearly crediting such person as a “contributor,” rather than an “author.” An author submitting an article is required to identify all co-authors and any other contributors (and to obtain consent from them for the publication of the article). Where necessary, you should seek clarification from authors and contributors to establish exactly who has done what in relation to the article and the research. You should require that all those who satisfy the test of authorship outlined above are in fact credited as co-authors.
Elsevier's preference is for authors to resolve such matters amongst themselves, although that is not always possible. The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless the journal editor informs the corresponding author or author about whom a complaint has been made (as a matter of “due process”) and possibly the institution or company at which the research took place (the complainant may not wish to make the complaint at such a formal level).
In that communication (see Form letter A1), the editor should indicate that the matter may be referred to the institution or company where the research took place or any other relevant institution or agency (for example, a funding agency), unless the author provides a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).
Note: some agencies such as the NIH’s Office of Research Integrity, will not consider disputes that are solely about authorship. It may be advisable for the editor in this fact-finding process to request the views and comments of third parties who may be expected to have knowledge of the facts alleged by the complainant.
Frequently asked questions
Then publication of a correction, corrigendum or retraction procedures are the normal remedies. Note that there may still be disagreement concerning the appropriate classification of the complainant’s contribution to the paper or how the complainant is identified.
Then the editor will have to consider whether the author’s explanation is reasonable. Normally, the editor would also inform the complainant of the author’s explanation and seek comment (see Form letter B).
Then the editor should inform the corresponding author and complainant that the journal will seriously consider the decision of the institutional review. Note, however, that the editor may still determine that the result of the institutional review is insufficient or inaccurate.
This should be reviewed with the complainant (perhaps the complainant is better placed to make the complaint directly with the institution).
Then the editor will be expected to make a determination, in his or her reasonable judgment, as to the underlying facts and to make a recommendation to the publisher (and possibly the society for society journals), which Elsevier staff will implement, normally through a corrigendum or retraction.
These are available for a second opinion (*). This is often the time for the editor to discuss the case with his/her publishing contact within Elsevier and agree what action, if any, needs to be taken.