The authors of the study searched for scholars who had published more than 72 studies (the equivalent of one paper every five days) in any one calendar year between 2000 and 2016. Of the 265 authors they found, many work in the medical sector.
The number of hyperprolific authors has soared in recent years. In 2014, according to the definition of Nature, there were twenty times more than in 2001, while the number of authors of scientific publications only increased by a factor of 2.5.
The institute that occurs most frequently in the worldwide list of hyperprolific authors is Erasmus MC. Nine EMC scholars published more than 72 papers per calendar year in one or more years. Most of the hyperprolific authors in Rotterdam are involved in the cohort studies ERGO and Generation R. Big, long-term research projects that yield thousands of publications.
What does authorship entail?
The authors of the Nature article wonder what authorship entails when a scholar publishes so much. They sent a survey to some of the hyperprolific authors, asking them whether they fulfilled the criteria for authorship of medical studies. These criteria specify that authors must play a significant part in designing or conducting experiments or processing results, help to write or revise the manuscript, approve the published version and take responsibility for the article’s contents.
Some of the respondents said that they did not always fulfill all the criteria. What’s more, 19 of the 27 respondents admitted that they had not met at least one criterion more than 25% of the time.
In response to the Nature article, hyperprolific authors in Rotterdam point to the large cohort studies and research consortia in which they operate. For example, Afran Ikram, Professor of Epidemiology and head of the Epidemiology department, writes to the authors of the Nature study: “The main explanation for the increase in publication activity has been the many collaborative efforts that I am part of. This is not unlike the physics field with biomedical research, especially the genetic epidemiological work, now increasingly becoming a major collaborative effort, in which multiple teams from multiple centers worldwide work together to achieve major breakthroughs.”
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In an interview with EM, Henning Tiemeier, also Professor of Epidemiology, explains: “Sometimes we need one hundred thousand human research subjects in order to be able to make a reliable statement. For that reason, we collaborate with other research groups, in consortia of up to twenty groups all over the world. Each of these groups has some five or six people working on data collection and data analysis, and all these people must be credited for their work, which means it’s easy to arrive at over a hundred authors.”
But even Tiemeier, who published 75 papers in 2016, admitted to Nature that he didn’t even read the last version of three of the studies attributed to him. “However, I did do a lot of other things for those studies, such as data analysis, And I can definitely vouch for the quality of those analyses. But I did not wish to deny that I never read the final draft of the article that ended up being published,” he tells EM. “I made that admission on purpose, to engender a debate on authorship.”