Take Care With Authorship

AGU has information posted about the rights and responsibilities of authors. I’ve written about this a few years ago, but there is more news to share, so I’m writing another post about it. But first, a recap: at the Author Resource Center there is a link a short Eos article on AGU’s Authorship Guidelines. The main point distills down to two quotes from the article: “only those who have significantly contributed to the research and preparation of the article should be listed as coauthors,” and “all of these coauthors share responsibility for submitted articles.” As a first/corresponding author, it is up to you to decide what constitutes a significant contribution to either the research or the manuscript preparation. As a coauthor, it is your job to read the paper and agree with its content.

I have a cautionary tale for you about authorship. Back in February at the AGU EiC Meeting, we discussed several real (but anonymized) case studies of sticky ethical situations for editors. One of them was about authorship, in which an editor received an email stating that this person saw a draft of a now-submitted paper with additional authors listed on it. Should the editor follow up with this person, with the first (or corresponding) author, or with the now-removed potential author? Or do nothing? An interesting point was made by AGU staff – if the issue rose to the level of a legal proceeding, an unpublished draft of a manuscript is a document that could be subpoenaed as evidence. Woah.


The website from which is came has nothing to do with science; I just like the picture and think its very appropriate for this topic.

So, I have this advice for you: add authors to the manuscript only after they have confirmed their acceptance of such a role. That is, just use “…and possible additional coauthors” in the draft, and as coauthors confirm their role, then insert their name into the list.

Here is another related point about this: if you add or subtract authors after the initial submission of a paper, then you must indicate this within GEMS – there will be a question and a text box specifically about this – and explain why the person’s role has changed. Please don’t just restate that you have added so-and-so to the list, but give a reason. Unfortunately, authorship malfeasance exists and AGU must check this to ensure proper authorship ethics on papers in AGU journals. If you do not adequately explain an authorship change, then either AGU staff or the Editor will send you an email and the paper will be held until this is resolved.

For more on authorship ethics, there is a link at the Author Resource Center to a page about this topic. AGU is also a follower of the standards from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).



2 thoughts on “Take Care With Authorship

  1. I encountered an example of this as a reviewer some years ago. At the time I’m not sure GEMS (or the predecessor system) was tracking this information. I called the editor’s attention to the modified author list (there were both subtractions and additions), and gave my opinion that the authors should have the editor’s explicit permission to do this.

    Offhand, I can’t think of a good reason to subtract authors after submission. It should only arise if the subtracted author no longer approved of the paper, which to me would be a red flag. I can think of one scenario where adding an author makes sense: if the reviewers requested substantial additional analysis, and a significant portion of that analysis was done by somebody who was not a co-author on the original version. Presumably the intent of this feature of GEMS is to note such cases.

    • Thanks for the comment. Subtracting and adding…yes and yes. It is hard to think of a good reason to subtract an author that doesn’t raise a red flag, and adding authors because of requested new analysis is a valid reason. In any case, please use the text box in GEMS to explain authorship changes from one version to another.

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