Scientific misconduct and accountability in teams

Authors : Katrin Hussinger, Maikel Pellens

Increasing complexity and multidisciplinarity make collaboration essential for modern science. This, however, raises the question of how to assign accountability for scientific misconduct among larger teams of authors. Biomedical societies and science associations have put forward various sets of guidelines. Some state that all authors are jointly accountable for the integrity of the work.

Others stipulate that authors are only accountable for their own contribution. Alternatively, there are guarantor type models that assign accountability to a single author. We contribute to this debate by analyzing the outcomes of 80 scientific misconduct investigations of biomedical scholars conducted by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

We show that the position of authors on the byline of 184 publications involved in misconduct cases correlates with responsibility for the misconduct. Based on a series of binary regression models, we show that first authors are 38% more likely to be responsible for scientific misconduct than authors listed in the middle of the byline (p<0.01). Corresponding authors are 14% more likely (p<0.05).

These findings suggest that a guarantor-like model where first authors are ex-ante accountable for misconduct is highly likely to not miss catching the author responsible, while not afflicting too many bystanders.

URL : Scientific misconduct and accountability in teams