Writing research papers and reviewing manuscripts and grants are essential activities in the scientific process. But authors and peer reviewers constantly face ethical issues for which they need to be prepared.


Barbara McClintock, who won a Nobel Prize in 1983 for her work on the unstable genetics of maize, was the sole author on more than 90% of her 70 scholarly publications. Today, it is unlikely that a scientist would be the only author of a paper. Indeed, the average number of authors on articles in the New England Journal of Medicine rose from slightly more than one in 1925 to more than six in 1995.

As research has become more complex and multidisciplinary, the need for many different types of experts to perform studies has increased. Investigators today collaborate on projects with colleagues from across the country and around the world, working with senior scientists, clinicians, undergraduate and graduate students, technicians, postdoctoral fellows, medical students and residents, statisticians, and other professionals. Each brings different expectations and even cultural experiences to issues such as who should be included in a paper for publication and for what purpose; for example, a graduate student and an adviser may have different ideas about authorship. Different disciplines may have fewer or more authors on a paper.

Peer-reviewed published literature, in the sciences as well as in the arts, is an essential foundation upon which knowledge builds in our society. The publication of articles allows for the validation and discussion of new ideas. Articles also provide credit for professional advancement as scientists seek grants and promotions. Being accountable for the content of an article seems to be a minimal responsibility for an author whose name is on a paper; maintaining objectivity and acknowledging potential biases when called upon as an expert to review a grant proposal or a submitted article before publication also seems a reasonable standard.

But individuals may have different ideas when they approach their responsibility as author or peer reviewer. This module looks at some of the issues that authors and peer reviewers face as they attempt to maintain the quality of society's base of shared wisdom. Review Learning Objectives

Next: Proceed to a series of "Challenge Questions" that will test your understanding of Responsible Authorship and Peer Review or go on to the next section.

Answer Challenge Questions | Next: → Case Study