According to recent study by Wislar and colleagues appearing in the BMJ 21% of scientific papers published in reputable ‘high impact’ biomedical journals are either written by an unnamed ‘ghost’ author and then attributed to someone as honorary author (8%) or has had the names of authors that had nothing to do with the study (18%), or both. There was however a significant decline from a survey carried out in 1996 using an identical questionnaire which showed a prevalence of ghost or honorary authorship of 29%.
Over the last twelve years honorary authorship had not significantly changed overall, although it was significantly higher for research articles as opposed to review articles or editorials. Ghost authorship showed a small but significant fall over the two periods under study.
The journals that were investigated by the present study were all English language with high impact factors in 2008: Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Lancet, Nature Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and PLoS Medicine.
As the authors state ‘inappropriate authorship remains a problem, although the more serious ghost authorship may be declining’.