Unethical Authorship and Research Misconduct in Academia


Authorship confers several benefits such as professional advancement, social status, and personal gratification. In research organizations, authorship is testimony of scholarship and expertise besides serving as a yardstick for individual promotion and tenure decisions. As a result, a few unscrupulous researchers indulge in research misconduct to amplify their publication count. The scope of research misconduct, at least in India, has been traditionally confined to fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism—the three issues that attract universal censure. But this overlooks other questionable practices, especially unethical authorship like guest, gift and ghost authorship. While unethical authorship practices are widespread, coerced or pressurized authorship by eminent scholars and administrators abusing positions of power are largely anecdotal and difficult to establish in the absence of a formal internal complaint by a whistle-blower. India is going through a phase of rapid expansion in the number of universities and research institutions. A large number of bright, motivated and enthusiastic young Indians are entering research programmes with idealism and a sense of wonder and curiosity. Yet, inside the corridors of academia, as the weakest members of a culture that is still arbitrary and authoritarian, they often face the ugly reality of research misconduct and unethical authorship. This talk will discuss research ethics, various forms of research misconduct, and present a method of investigating plausible authorship misconduct using large academic databases like Elsevier’s Scopus or Web of Science in combination with publicly available information about a person’s professional history. We hope to start a conversation on better regulations and guidelines for ethical conduct in research through this work. This is imperative if we want India to flourish in scholarship and research. The talk is based on a working paper titled Unethical Authorship is Research Misconduct.

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