In Boston on May 16 at Harvard University, The Wellcome Trust hosted the International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution. Several presenters outlined article contributor roles we should probably begin to acknowledge. Over the last two weeks I reported on some of the talks made at the workshop. This is the final summary from that meeting.

Ginny Barbour is the chief editor of PLOS Medicine for the well-known Public Library of Science (PLoS). Her talk was on “PLOS: Big science and medicine and the attribution of authorship.” She pointed out that past solutions for author attribution do not work. Big science and the accompanying data sets create new attribution problems. “We have been trying to solve the wrong problem,” she said.

Consider the anecdote about the janitor cleaning the Kennedy Space Center, “I’m helping to send a man to the moon.” Inspirational, yes, but it also highlights the vagueness of “helping.” What does AU really mean? A huge listing of people names – what does it mean?? In one listing, everyone in the author listing “helped” but no one claimed authorship. Who will stand behind this science report?

You can have criteria – authors should meet criteria –1,2,3, etc. Send letters and ask authors to confirm their authorship in criteria. Then, send letters again to fill in the contributing author statement.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has taken steps to address attribution problems. They issued the first COPE guideline in 2003, and have continued to issue guidelines for authors and editors.

Guidelines are being used against us, according to Alastair Matheson. (See “How Industry Uses the ICMJE Guidelines to Manipulate Authorship–And How They Should Be Revised.”) Authorship is being exploited. The result is that authorship is becoming worthless and meaningless.

Verification of authorship is time-consuming to deal with. We need robust definitions for authorship that are portable across specializations, as well as methods for attribution at different levels

The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the International Council for Science has been working with the Board on Research Data and Information (BRDI) of the U.S. National Academies of Science to develop data attribution and citation practices and standards. As an introduction to a report on BRDI/CODATA activities, Christine Borgman, professor and Presidential Chair in Information Studies at UCLA, presented “Why are the attribution and citation of scientific data important?” One of the many issues that a recent BRDI/CODATA symposium addressed was “Why attribute data?” The reasons have largely to do with two factors: 1) social expectation, and 2) legal responsibility. One finding, not totally unexpected, was that everyone wants credit for the data.

The next presentation was by Fred Dylla, executive director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). He discussed a CrossRef-sponsored pilot project, FundRef. Many readers of this blog are already familiar with CrossRef, a collaborative reference linking service perhaps best known as the main champion of the Digital Object Identifier, or DOI. CrossRef describes FundRef as “a collaborative pilot project of scholarly publishers and funding agencies, facilitated by CrossRef, to provide a standard way of reporting funding sources for published scholarly research.”

In the world of scholarly and research publications, it is often difficult to find funding information – in footnotes, acknowledgements, or text. Agencies cannot find what they sponsored, and readers cannot find where the money for the research came from. The solution is to standardize where such information appears. This is part of what FundRef does.

With FundRef, CrossRef is enabling publishers to deposit funder name and grant numbers as part of the manuscript submission process. The platform includes a pilot taxonomy with 4,000 funder names, to ensure consistency.

Far above Cayuga’s waters, another recent platform is improving access to scholarly and research data. Cornell University is one of several universities where VIVO has been implemented. Brian Lowe, VIVO lead semantic lead developer at Cornell University Library, gave us some firsthand insights into “Contributor Roles in VIVO.” VIVO focuses on information about contributors. It enables researchers to discover what other researchers are doing.

While VIVO got its start at Cornell, in 2009 it got funding from NIH to expand to a multi-institution network, now led by Mike Conlon at the University of Florida. All data is represented semantically following W3C and is published as linked open data.

VIVO uses ontologies for populating instance data. This is different from annotating the data. It provides instances of the classes of the data. FOAF data is linked and underpinned by the W3C linked data options.

VIVO’s co-authorship data system represents authorship linked to a paper, and includes integration with place in an author listing, link to position on faculty, and other things relevant to authors’ professional lives. A faculty reporting system is linked into the system at universities. VIVO is free to download and use by other organizations.

The last presenter before the breakout sessions was Mike Taylor, a principal investigator at Elsevier Labs. His presentation was “Researcher perspectives on attribution, contributorship and new forms of scholarly communication: preliminary survey results.”

So far, the survey has had 180 respondents. They indicated what contribution they make to traditional articles, and what forms of communication they use. In addition, they revealed their views on some challenging questions: What is an intellectual contribution? Does intellectual contribution deserve authorship? What is worthy of authorship credit?

Afterwards, Christine Borgman commented that the rush to a DOI for authors may be premature. Perhaps we need a trusted provenance model first, to be sure we can track the data and the information in the data. Things to consider: easy IDs, the Open Research & Contributor ID program (ORCID), and authority records from the Library of Congress.

Finally, Cliff Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, gave a wrap-up. He commented that contributor roles have traditionally been “a group of people associated with a paper.” However, scientific communication is rapidly getting broader than just the paper. We have to consider videos, ancillary data sets, illustrations, models, and so forth. We need to make room for the further evolution of scholarly communications.

He continued by saying that authorship is an intellectual concept, and a legal concept connected with ownership. We cannot disconnect authorship from ownership – we need to deal with this concept. This is an area for much mischief.

Dr. Lynch concluded by observing that it would be wonderful to move ahead, to further define and facilitate scholarly communication. New approaches need to be evidence based; these would be most compelling. It would drive adoption more quickly if we can point to use cases where some new approach actually works.

This workshop offered a much needed look at an important issue. After the technical sessions the meeting broke into four working groups to come up with models for implementation on several fronts. Those models and a report on the meeting in general are forthcoming, and we will post pointers to the report here when it is ready.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations