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Correspondence  |   July 1999
Plagiarism and Authorship 
Author Notes
  • Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesiology; Department of Anesthesia; The University of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa 52242–1009;
Article Information
Correspondence
Correspondence   |   July 1999
Plagiarism and Authorship 
Anesthesiology 7 1999, Vol.91, 325. doi:
Anesthesiology 7 1999, Vol.91, 325. doi:
In Reply:-Dr. Partridge suggests that one solution to the plagiarism issue that I discussed in an earlier editorial is to avoid "… the ubiquitous habit of senior authors taking credit for the work product of their junior colleagues …" He also suggests that coauthorship is "exactly the equivalent of plagiarism." I suppose that, at face value, there is some validity to such a statement if most cases of shared authorship did actually represent such an egregious "stealing" of credit. In my opinion, however, this is an overstatement of reality and ignores the usually positive nature of collaborative efforts. The multiauthored publication is the norm today, not because of desire on the part of senior authors to engage in the wholesale theft of the efforts of their junior colleagues, but because science is, in fact, a collaborative activity, as are the overwhelming majority of the articles that are the product of that activity. Research training is now, and always has been, a kind of apprenticeship, with younger workers learning to work and write in a progressive fashion from more experienced practitioners. If a younger individual authors an article, does Dr. Partridge believe that he or she should receive no input from his or her advisors? I would agree that such input need not always result in authorship for the advisor. If the advisor does nothing more than fund the laboratory or provide general, but distant, supervision, I would agree that authorship is not warranted. Dr. Partridge is correct in suggesting that such "token" authorship (perhaps undertaken to add credence to the article or to gain credit for the senior author) is wrong. However, what if that advisor provides guidance for the author, plays a central role in the ideas that form the article, and personally "edits" or even writes key portions of the article? In my opinion, authorship under such circumstances is totally warranted and appropriate. I also believe that this represents the overwhelming number of articles, including editorials that we publish.
Can plagiarism occur under such circumstances? Absolutely. Is it realistically possible for any author to "know" the origin of every sentence penned by his coauthors and, hence, detect such events before they appear in print? Absolutely not; to do so would require an inhuman knowledge of the millions of published articles that exist in the literature, any one of which could be the source of copied material. Does such "ignorance" absolve the senior authors of the unethical actions of his coauthor? No, the senior author must accept responsibility in the same manner that a senior military officer retains responsibility for the actions of his subordinates. In the case in point, it is clear that the senior author did indeed accept such responsibility and suffered the humiliation of being publicly identified as participating in the publication of plagiarized material.
The solution to plagiarism is not to dissolve the unquestionably beneficial relationship between junior and senior, either in terms of the work they do or the articles they publish. The solution involves a combination of educating junior and senior authors about the ethics of their chosen profession, vigilance on the part of authors and editors, and a willingness to publicly disclose such events when they occur. The published letters from Drs. Bhardwaj and Kirsch (published at the insistence of their institution as well as Anesthesiology) and my accompanying comments represent the last of these actions-an action that will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of the reasons that "ethical rules" exist.
Michael M. Todd, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesiology; Department of Anesthesia; The University of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa 52242–1009;
(Accepted for publication March 23, 1999.)