Guest Authors Are Not Welcome

Published in volume 22, issue 2, March 2012
This issue has two excellent papers. The first, Regression testing minimisation, selection and prioritisation : A survey, by Yoo and Harman, provides an extensive survey of research on minimizing and prioritizing tests for regression testing, including a total of 189 references. The second, Timing analysis of scenario-based specifications using linear programming, by Li, Pan, Bu, Wang, and Zhao, presents an approach to analyzing UML sequence diagrams to solve reachability, constraint conformance and bounded delay problems.

A colleague recently asked me for an opinion on "guest authorship" of papers, referring to an essay from Scientific American [1]. A guest author is added to a paper despite not adding any intellectual content, labor in the work behind the paper, or contribution to the writing.

Some guest authors are added as part of a mutual support deal. I add your name to my papers and you add mine to yours, inflating both publication records. Some add "big names" to a paper in the hopes the paper will get favorable reviews. (I can ensure you this doesn't work—if anything, "big name" scientists are subjected to more critical scrutiny.) Some junior scientists are expected to add senior colleagues' names to papers as an appreciation for the extra administrative burden they shoulder. I have even heard of PhD advisors who expect their former students to add their names to papers long after graduating.

To be direct and clear, my firm opinion, and the policy of this journal, is that putting your name on a paper you didn't contribute to is lying. It deceives readers. It is theft of credit. It claims credit for something you did not do. It is simply a form of plagiarism.

If the editorial staff for STVR finds guest authorship, the paper will be handled just as any other type of plagiarism. The paper will be rejected, department chairs or deans will be notified, and the authors (all authors) will not be welcome to submit papers to STVR again.

I have only thought of three gray areas. One is if the guest author is the source of funds, the PI who supports the scientists who did the work. Another is if the guest author taught the class the paper was initially written for. In both cases, the guest author can claim credit for creating the environment that allowed the research to flourish, and possibly for teaching knowledge and skills that were directly reflected in the paper. Personally, I would not accept being a guest author in this situation (and have declined such invitations), but can see some merit to the argument. A third is if the guest author did not know his or her name was being used. The contributing authors are certainly to blame, but perhaps not the guest author (maybe I could use this technique to increase my Erdös number ...).

Science can only flourish in an atmosphere of honesty and openness. Dishonesty and obscurity corrupt and disrupt the scientific process.

[1] Scientific authorship: guests, courtesy, contributions, and harms, Janet D. Stemwedel, Scientific American, November, 2011. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/doing-good-science/2011/11/04/scientific-authorship-guests-courtesy-contributions-and-harms/

Jeff Offutt
21 January 2012