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DATA: How does the analyst point to the data practices in the collaboration? Or to the data produced about the collaboration? Where does that data travel?


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Mike Fortun's picture
January 13, 2019

I am not amused by the content of your email.

Your apology upfront that ‘you have no evidence’ reads like a waiver and suggests that you are convinced that hyperprolific authors are doing inappropriate things. Being an author that always fulfils the authorship requirements, this feels very unfair. I do understand that every hyperprolific author will say the same thing and I admit from previous experience that this is often not true. However, it will be impossible to proof ‘innocence’ to your accusation. In fact, you should check at the individual author level and case-by-case, and such an approach is obviously not in your interest. I invite you to contact all my co-authors of any paper you want in order to check about my contribution.

The sad thing is that I even think (when writing I have not seen your paper yet) that I understand what you are trying to make clear about authorship and I will admit that I probably largely agree. But your generalizations may harm individual authors and cause collateral damage. I find it the more painful to be (an unintended) part of your criticism, since I read many of your papers, use them for educational purposes and often agree with their content.

I want to provide a few explanations for my hyperprolific output:

- I have an academic affiliation and I spend 80% of my time (more than fulltime hours) to clinical research. This is uncommon in many countries but definitely not in the country I live and work in (the Netherlands)

- My field of expertise is methodology of outcome measures. These outcome measures are widely applied, and I am often asked to consult about their application in clinical studies, be involved in the study subsequently, and this is finally leading to co-authorships.

- I have a large network, spanning academia, professional organisations and pharmaceutical companies, leading to many collaborations that result in many co-authorships.

- I have always published many papers: 2010-2016 an average of 55 per year

- As far as I could see I hit your cut-off (n>70 per annum) in 2014 only (n=81). This was even artificial since the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, a journal I often publish in, had extra pages in 2014 to publish the backlog of ePub-ahead papers from 2013. In 2013 my number of publications was 38 and the average of 59, within my normal range, would not even have been noticed by you.

- I am afraid your criticism pertains to pharmaceutical industries’ ‘key-opinion-leaders’ that piggyback on the work of medical writers from industry and get their publications for free. I can assure you that -in my case- you have made a mistake: 53 of my publications in 2014 were academic papers without pharma influence (own and collaborative research); 12 publications were in collaboration with professional organizations, not being industry (such as guidelines); and 16 publications were in collaboration with pharmaceutical industry.

- I can also assure you that I have never accepted co-authorship solely for my contribution of patients or data to studies or trials; When being co-author it is because of involvement in the design, analysis and interpretation of the study (in addition to the manuscript drafting and final approval).

I understand the definition of hyperprolific author you have used, and I understand the need to set a cut-off. At first sight, ‘one paper every 5 days’ sounds impossible, but you should realize that this is a ‘frame’. Indeed, if I had to write all these papers by myself, it would have been impossible. Many of the papers have been written by people I supervise or by other co-authors. Only the papers in collaboration with industry have been written by medical writers, and this is always mentioned in the paper. If so, I contribute extensively to various drafts (after the phase of design, analysis and interpretation of data).

If it is your intention to criticize scientifically inappropriate authorship, you have missed many that are indeed inappropriate authors (for instance since they have only contributed by including patients in trials) but did not meet your artificial threshold for being hyperprolific (these authors will never publish too many papers as they cannot be part of too many trials).

What you are also unable to judge is how many authorship-offers I refuse, either immediately as I judge the study insufficiently sound or not interesting, or during the process, when I disagree with the content of the paper.

To answer your question on ‘how I feel about belonging to this class’: I can safely tell you that belonging to your ‘exceptional class’ does not give me any satisfaction, and I do not need it for maintaining or improving my academic position.

To this end, for me scientific success is not based on how other people judge my output quantitatively, but rather on its quality and the pleasure I have in my daily work. I do enjoy my work, and I vouch for its integrity. I will try to accept your frames by referring to a Dutch saying: ‘High trees catch a lot of wind’ (such as ‘Big trees fall hard’ or ‘Big ideas make a loud noise when they land’ by Shawn). 

Mike Fortun's picture
January 13, 2019

Pleased to be in your list.

I am a senior Researcher and a Professor still active and interested to continue to learn and to teach daily. I decided many years ago to work on membrane systems, to understand better membrane phenomena, to develop new membrane operations of interest for solving strategic problems for an advanced industrial Society trying to reproduce what membranes have been and are doing in Nature. I promoted the creation of the first Institute on Membrane Technology by the CNR in Italy, in the late 80ies.A very multidisciplinary and multinational structure where hundreds of students and young researchers have been very active in the last 20-25 years. I promoted and coordinated the first Erasmus Doctorate School on Membrane Engineering sponsored by the European Union, where around 45 students from all around the World have been educated in Membrane Science and Engineering. Today Membrane Science and Membrane Engineering are attracting more and more attention in a large variety of industrial areas, in medicine, in biotecnology, in energy. In desalination, in waste waters treatments and reuse, in fuel cells, in some artificial hybrid organs etc, membrane systems are dominant technologies already. The large number of students and younger colleagues from Italy, China, Korea, Saudi Arabia and more who are interacting and collaborating with me, covering different expertise and topics, but all educated and attracted by the potentalities of Membrane Engineering is at the origin of our productivity. Their enthusiasm, expertise and visions made possible to solve all problems and obstacle present in promoting new ideas and new solutions.

Hopefully more will come!

Mike Fortun's picture
January 13, 2019

In a recent Nature article describing hyperprolific authors, Uitterlinden provides a candid explanation of his authorship. In addition to making long hours he attributes his success to the richness of the phenotypes and diseases available in the data at his disposal. Regarding his high number of co-authorships, he argues that it is not problematic, but rather reflects the sheer magnitude of the network and effort required to achieve these types of scientific discoveries (Supp Mat)32. (p. 5)

Reference 32 points to the article in Nature (2018) by John Ioannidis et al., "Thousands of scientists publish a paper every five days."

Angela Okune's picture
August 28, 2018
  • AO: The analysts focus on the data and findings and their circulation, stating that community members should be able to decide where they want it published and also how or which data is analyzed or how and where future studies might occur. (7)

  • AO: The analysts have an explicit paragraph where they describe their own data ethics practices noting that their original data was gathered under an exemption but they still obtained verbal consent from participants. After success of method, they applied for ethics review of secondary use of data from Canadian body. (8)

  • AO: The analysts noted that some community members wanted access to raw data whereas others just wanted summaries. They argued that all aspects and data of the project is crucial for informed consent to ensure people have enough information to fully understand the risks or benefits associated with a research project.” (14)

Angela Okune's picture
August 27, 2018

AO: in this case study, the analysts are concerned with the ethics of data sharing, and the development of policies and guidelines to support practice.

Angela Okune's picture
August 26, 2018
  • AO: The analysts do not cover data practices themselves.