Moving beyond authorship: recognizing the contributions to research

Following the launch of the Author Contributorship Badges today, Liz Allen talks more about why this is important including the benefits of improving information regarding contribution to published work.

Over the last few years, there has been increasing interest and recognition that the concept of ‘authorship’ in science is perhaps no longer fit for purpose for the many things that people now want to do with scholarly published output.

Among the many reasons why change is needed (see Credit where credit’s due‘ for a fuller summary) relying on author position as a proxy for contribution to the research resulting a published article is increasingly inaccurate (was it ever accurate?) as author numbers grow.

Particularly in physics and the life sciences; metrics based around individual publication output and contributions are relied upon to help further careers so if we can make contribution more accurate and transparent then that can only be a positive thing.

There are also many practical benefits of improving information around contribution to published work.

The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, endorsed by many researchers, research funders, learned societies and publishers, emphasized a commitment to move away from Journal Impact Factor as a measure of research quality. Initiatives that would bring greater clarity to authorship would provide a new basis upon which to recognize researcher contribution and research use and re-use.

There are also many practical benefits of improving information around contribution to published work such as allowing peer reviewers to be found, and helping researchers to identify and forge collaborations with individuals with specific skills or specialisms.

For publishers, of course, there are obvious benefits to greater transparency in contributor assignment as it would help to reduce the volume and time involved in managing authorship disputes.

Trying new things: testing the contributor role taxonomy

Culminating in 2014, the Wellcome Trust, MIT, Digital Science, and others created a taxonomy of contributorship that could be used to assign contribution types to scholarly published outputs.

It recognizes roles like data curation, development of design methodology, programming and software development, application of statistical or mathematical techniques to analyze data, data visualization, verification or results, and so on.

The team worked with CASRAI (Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration) and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) to evolve the taxonomy, and since 2014, it has been openly available for the scientific community to use, test and provide feedback on (see Project Credit).

Without trying to evolve and upgrade what is a rigid model of ‘authorship’, we will not know if things can be better for science.

When overhauling an established way of working, you have to be careful not to bring about unhelpful or negative consequences. However, without trying to evolve and upgrade what is a rigid model of ‘authorship’, we will not know if things can be better for science.

Several organizations are already testing the value of a more structured taxonomy of contributor roles in a live environment: Cell Press have been encouraging their authors to describe contributions according to the Credit Taxonomy; Aries Systems has included the taxonomy in its recent release of Editorial Manager 13.0 manuscript submission system; and the Mozilla Open Badges project, which was released today.

A more holistic view of a researcher’s contribution and skill set

The badges project is a really exciting experiment; not only does it use the digital infrastructure which is increasingly in place to bring connectedness to the objects, products and outputs associated with researchers and their research (see ORCID), but it aims to provide a recognized currency of accolades and credit that are transparent, validated and available for funding agencies and employers to check out for a whole range of uses.

Check out this blog for details of how the project will work. The Project Credit community will continue to support additional implementations of the taxonomy and work with collaborators to consider how it might be evolved for practical benefit.

For now, the message seems to be that, there is a lot of ‘will’ among the scientific community to do things differently in this space, while connectivity across and between platforms is helping to ensure that there is a ‘way’.

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