How many authors are (too) many? A retrospective, descriptive analysis of authorship in biomedical publications

Martin Jakab* (First author), Eva Kittl, Tobias Kiesslich (Last author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalOriginal Article (Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Publishing in academic journals is primary to disseminate research findings, with authorship reflecting a scientist's contribution, yielding academic recognition, and carrying significant financial implications. Author numbers per article have consistently risen in recent decades, as demonstrated in various journals and fields. This study is a comprehensive analysis of authorship trends in biomedical papers from the NCBI PubMed database between 2000 and 2020, utilizing the Entrez Direct (EDirect) E-utilities to retrieve bibliometric data from a dataset of 17,015,001 articles. For all publication types, the mean author number per publication significantly increased over the last two decades from 3.99 to 6.25 (+ 57%, p < 0.0001) following a linear trend (r(2) = 0.99) with an average relative increase of 2.28% per year. This increase was highest for clinical trials (+ 5.67 authors per publication, + 97%), the smallest for case reports (+ 1.01 authors, + 24%). The proportion of single/solo authorships dropped by a factor of about 3 from 17.03% in 2000 to 5.69% in 2020. The percentage of eleven or more authors per publication increased similar to sevenfold, similar to 11-fold and similar to 12-fold for reviews, editorials, and systematic reviews, respectively. Confirming prior findings, this study highlights the escalating authorship in biomedical publications. Given potential unethical practices, preserving authorship as a trustable indicator of scientific performance is critical. Understanding and curbing questionable authorship practices and inflation are imperative, as discussed through relevant literature to tackle this issue.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalScientometrics
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jan 2024

Keywords

  • Authorship inflation
  • Authorship proliferation
  • Hyperauthorship
  • Multiauthorship

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