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07/26/2017

Authorship and Pets

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors is an
influential group that, as expected, takes publication and authorship very
seriously.  They have issued the most
generally accepted definition of the criteria for authorship of scientific
publications. They list these criteria very clearly and unambiguously on their website.
These criteria are:

“The ICMJE
recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

  Substantial
contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition,
analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

  Drafting the
work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AN

  Final
approval of the version to be published; AND

  Agreement to
be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related
to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. “

They go on to say “All those designated as authors
should meet all four criteria for authorship, and all who meet the four
criteria should be identified as authors.” There does not seem to leave much
doubt as to their meaning. The practise of guest authorship, including authors
with non-substantive contributions by virtue of their position was once common
but is now considered inappropriate. However, no simple set of guidelines can
address all possible circumstances. Which raises the point I am addressing in
this blog: What about pets?

An important paper
on atomic behaviour published in Physical Reviews by Jack Hetherington and
F.D.C. Willard is the object of this question.

F.D.C. Willard was Jack Hetherington’s Siamese
cat Chester. The name represents Felix domesticus Chester Willard.  Willard was Chester’s father also obviously a
cat. Chester eventually published a sole author paper, an impressive
accomplishment indeed for a cat. Hethrington’s motivation for this offense was
the realization that he had used plural terms such as “we” and “our” throughout
the manuscript. It was easier to add an author than to edit the entire
manuscript.

The pertinent question then is whether F.D.C. Willard
met the criteria for authorship. Without going into a lengthy analysis of the
likelihood that the criteria were met I am merely going to suggest that I
believe it was highly unlikely. In the terminology of research ethics today this
would be considered fabrication and falsification, both criteria for research
misconduct. So did Jack Hetherington commit research misconduct? The answer,
literally, is yes. However, I am going to suggest that he should probably be
pardoned for his offense. The reason for this is clear. He was merely making a
joke. Science for all its clear value is often a bit humourless. Pranks like
this are remembered forty years later in a way that very few actual scientific
papers are remembered. After all, F.D.C. Willard has a Wikipedia entry and Jack
Hetherington does not. I still do have one concern to address. It is very hard
to believe that a cat could actually be a co-author. This would be much more
credible if Professor Hetherington had cited his dog.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.  

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