Friday 19 December 2014

Authorship and acknowledgment of core facility work

I've been lucky enough to work in an Institute that views its core facilities as a cornerstone of the scientific output, and we get acknowledged for most of the work we do. Other core facilities are not so lucky; and even here sometimes people simply forget to acknowledge everyone they should have in the rush to get their paper submitted.

Now the journal BioTechniques has introduced a new editorial policy that will require authors to answer the question "if they worked with a core laboratory", and if so make sure this is acknowledged in the final manuscript. I hope other journals will take a similar decision. All core labs are funded, completely, or in some part, by grant income and are effectively subsidised. This is the main reason core labs are usually cheaper than commercial providers. This funding is not wasted by the host institution as the cores (should) offer a more flexible and bespoke service.

The ABRF have guidelines on their website for authorship and acknowledgement. They ask several questions and give suggestions on what to do if a user/collaborator refuses to acknowledge core personnel. I've copied the example from their website (taken from Robert A. Day: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper)
  • Example 1: Scientist A designs the experiments, and tells Technician B exactly how to do the experiments. If the experiments work and a new discovery is made and a manuscript results, Scientist A is the sole author and Technician B is recognised in the acknowledgements section.
  • Example 2: Scientist A designs the experiments, Technician B carries them out but they do not work. Technician B suggests some changes to the protocol, the experiments then work because of the changes and a discovery results. Scientist A and Technician B are now both authors.

Robert Day's book states that "authors should include those, and only those, who contributed to the overall design or execution of the experiments". My lab has guidelines and suggested text on our lab website and we remind our users that the Genomics Core is reviewed on a five year cycle and that authorship and acknowledgement are metrics that our success is measured by.

At the end of the day the people who should decide on authorship and acknowledgement are the main authors, but we should remind, and challenge, them if necessary. When they forget I will double-check if the work was carried out by us and if so add it to the list of publications my lab has generated data for.

Having journal editors ask the question directly at submission is not a big deal and every time I've double-checked so far the lead and corresponding authors have been sincere in their apologies. I look forward to seeing the same policies from Nature, Science, Cell, NEJM and everyone else.

1 comment:

  1. This is a welcomed move by BioTechniques, and even though their harts are in the right place, I have to take issue with the line, "One might suggest that core facility staff members are paid for their work, which should be sufficient reward." I've met very few scientists, and authors, that were not paid for their work. The example from Robert A. Day seems a logical way to determine authorship vs. acknowledgment.


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