Printer Friendly

Unwarranted social work authorship: a partial solution is at hand.

Professor Natasha K. Bowen (2013) has done an admirable job in bringing to the attention of the social work scholarly community the problem of inappropriate authorships. This problem can arise through a number of possible routes, ranging from benign ignorance to malignant misappropriation. These unethical authorships can occur when a legitimate author overgenerously grants coauthorship to a peer, to someone senior to them, to an academic or administrative supervisor, or to a friend. Unethical authorships can also be granted when a spurious author passively accepts coauthorship when it is unwarranted, perhaps awarded by a junior, by someone currying favor, or a legitimate author believing that having a more distinguished personage appear as a coauthor will enhance the professional patina of his or her paper. In some egregious cases, an overly acquisitive (usually) senior-level social worker (perhaps tenured!) implicitly or explicitly demands authorship of a junior colleague's work. Dr. Bowen proposes some suggested authorship guidelines for social work researchers, guidelines said to be potentially useful by potential authors, journal editors, social work program directors, and students. I think these guidelines are good. And bad. The good aspects are obvious. If adopted they would help mitigate the problem Bowen describes. Let me focus on why I think these are a bad idea, or at least, premature.

If we adopt Authorship Guidelines for Social Work Researchers as Bowen suggests, one can readily see similar guidelines emerging for psychologists, nurses, physicians, marriage and family therapists, and so forth. I publish in a variety of different disciplinary journals, and I often coauthor projects with nonsocial work academics and practitioners. Whose guidelines should we follow? The potential for conflicting standards is obvious. Having unique authorship guidelines for social work journals may inadvertently discourage distinguished nonsocial work researchers from introducing their work to our field. Some journals, such as Nature, provide extensive guidelines for determining authorship (see, which, among many other features, requires that all authors describe their particular contributions to a given manuscript being submitted. Such existing standards could be considered for potential adoption by social work journals, first, prior to reinventing the wheel. However, a partial solution is already at hand.

For reasons that are unclear to me, Dr. Bowen did not cite the current edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association [APA], 2009), a long-existing manual whose guidelines almost all English-language social work journals adhere to (including Social Work Research), and a manual most social work doctoral students learn to follow fairly closely. The APA manual provides more than a standardized method for formatting papers and citing papers--it provides information on legal and ethical aspects of publishing and has something to say on the topic of authorship. Here are some of the statements contained therein that overlap with Bowen's suggested guidelines:

Definition of authorship. Individuals should only take authorship credit for work they have actually performed or to which they have substantially contributed. ... Authorship encompasses, therefore, not only those who do the actual writing but also those who have made substantial scientific contributions to a study. ... (Examples of contributions that do and do not warrant authorship are provided.)

Determining authorship. As early as practical in a research project, the collaborators should decide on which tasks are necessary for the project's completion, how the work will be divided, which tasks or combination of tasks merit authorship credit, and on what level credit should be given (first author, second author, etc.). Collaborators may need to reassess authorship credit and order if changes in relative contribution are made in the course of the project (and its publication). This is especially true in faculty-student collaborations (examples are given). ... When a paper is Accepted ... each person listed in the byline must verify in writing that he or she agrees to serve as an author and accepts the responsibilities of authorship. (APA, 2009, p. 18)

Further guidelines address the order-of-authorship issue, particularly noting that "Relative status (i.e., department chair, junior faculty member, student) should not determine the order of authorship" (APA, 2009, p. 19), and discuss the unique situation of students.

My point is that most social work journals already have a well-established set of guidelines pertaining to authors at hand and that if authors, journal editors, deans, and students would simply follow these, this would help alleviate some of the problems in unethical or inappropriate authorship Professor Bowen describes. I do not think it useful, scientifically, for we social workers to huffily proclaim that somehow our research or practice is special or unique in some vague way and, therefore, we require our own disciplinary guidelines. I do not think this is true in the development of our knowledge base, nor do I think it would be advisable in the development of disciplinary practice guidelines (see Thyer, 2002, 2003). I extend this principle of nonexclusivity or nonuniqueness to Bowen's proposed disciplinary-specific authorship guidelines. I am not minimizing the problem. Bowen is spot-on in highlighting it and bringing it to our attention. I believe that a more parsimonious solution is to follow the APA guidelines already said to be adopted by most of our journals, and perhaps to collaborate with other groups in the refinement of interdisciplinary standards that can be adopted across the behavioral, social, and health care professions.

doi: 10.1093/swr/svt008


American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bowen, N. K. (2013). Social work authorship [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 37, 3-13.

Thyer, B. A. (2002). Developing discipline-specific knowledge for social work: Is it possible? Journal of Social Work Education, 38, 10l-113.

Thyer, B. A. (2003). Social work should help develop interdisciplinary evidence-based practice guidelines, not discipline-specific ones. In A. Rosen, & E. K. Proctor (Eds.), Developing practice guidelines for social work interventions: Issues, methods and research agenda (pp. 128-139). New York: Columbia University Press.

Bruce A. Thyer, PhD, LCSW, is professor, College of Social Work, Florida State University, 296 Champions Way, Tallahassee, FL 32306; e-mail:

Advance Access Publication February 26, 2013
COPYRIGHT 2013 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:REJOINDER
Author:Thyer, Bruce A.
Publication:Social Work Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
Previous Article:Social work authorship.
Next Article:Response to Bruce A. Thyer's comments on social work authorship.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters