An Ethical Exploration of Increased Average Number of Authors Per Publication

Mohammad Hosseini, Jonathan Lewis, Hub Zwart*, Bert Gordijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


This article explores the impact of an Increase in the average Number of Authors per Publication (INAP) on known ethical issues of authorship. For this purpose, the ten most common ethical issues associated with scholarly authorship are used to set up a taxonomy of existing issues and raise awareness among the community to take precautionary measures and adopt best practices to minimize the negative impact of INAP. We confirm that intense international, interdisciplinary and complex collaborations are necessary, and INAP is an expression of this trend. However, perverse incentives aimed to increase institutional and personal publication counts and egregious instances of guest or honorary authorship are problematic. We argue that whether INAP is due to increased complexity and scale of science, perverse incentives or undeserved authorship, it could negatively affect known ethical issues of authorship at some level. In the long run, INAP depreciates the value of authorship status and may disproportionately impact junior researchers and those who contribute to technical and routine tasks. We provide two suggestions that could reduce the long-term impact of INAP on the reward system of science. First, we suggest further refinement of the CRediT taxonomy including better integration into current systems of attribution and acknowledgement, and better harmony with major authorship guidelines such as those suggested by the ICMJE. Second, we propose adjustments to the academic recognition and promotion systems at an institutional level as well as the introduction of best practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
At the time of submission, Mohammad Hosseini and Jonathan Lewis received funding from the EnTIRE Consortium (Mapping Normative Frameworks for Ethics and Integrity of Research), which is supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Grant Agreement No. 741782. At the time of publication, Mohammad Hosseini received funding from Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS, UL1TR001422). The funders have not played a role in the design, analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


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