Context A number of general medical journals and the International Committee
of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) request authors to disclose their contributions.
Little is known about the effect of journal policies on authors' disclosure
of their contributions.
Objective To determine the number of named authors who do not meet ICMJE criteria
for authorship, according to their published contributions, in 3 medical journals
with different contribution disclosure practices.
Design Observational study of authors' contributions in research articles published
in 2002 in Annals of Internal Medicine (n = 72), BMJ (n = 107), and JAMA (n = 81). BMJ asks authors to describe research contributions in their own words; Annals asks authors to choose from a list of coded contributions;
and JAMA uses a structured checklist with instructions on contributions
that qualify for ICMJE authorship criteria. Honorary authorship was defined
as the lack of contribution from the first ICMJE criterion (study conception
and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data)
and/or second (drafting the article or critical revision for important intellectual
content) ICMJE criterion.
Results According to authors' published contributions, the number of honorary
authors was highest in Annals (121/562 authors, 21.5%),
followed by BMJ (46/482, 9.5%), and JAMA (3/641,
0.5%) (χ22 = 146.67, P<.001).
The number of articles with honorary authors was 60% in Annals, 21% in BMJ, and 4% in JAMA. Honorary
authors had fewer published contributions than authors who met ICMJE criteria
and were positioned more toward the end of the byline. Honorary authors either
lacked contributions for both ICMJE criteria (10% in Annals and 22% in BMJ) or contributions to the second
ICMJE criterion (75% in Annals, 67% in BMJ, and 2 out of 3 in JAMA).
Conclusions General medical journals differed in prevalence of honorary authors
according to published research contributions of named authors. Different
authorship/contributorship policies and procedures should be explored as a
possible explanation for the differences in contributions disclosed by authors
among these journals.