J Med Ethics 39:515-516 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101016
  • Research ethics
  • Response

Response to the commentaries of Melissa S Anderson and Murray J Dyck

  1. Jozsef Kovacs
  1. Correspondence to Professor Jozsef Kovacs, Department of Bioethics, Semmelweis University, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, VIII Nagyvarad ter 4, Budapest 1089, Hungary; kovjozs{at}
  • Received 21 August 2012
  • Revised 6 September 2012
  • Accepted 12 September 2012
  • Published Online First 4 October 2012


Anderson and Dyck claim that the current trend of almost exclusively using citation-based evaluative metrics to assess the research output of scholars is unsound. I agree with them in this, but I feel that, for practical reasons, this system will not disappear in the near future, so we must concentrate on making it fairer.

Both commentators doubt whether numerically expressing each contributor's relative contribution is feasible. I admit that an important precondition for this task is the possibility of an informed, democratic debate among equals about the relative contribution of each contributor to the article. Mechanisms should be established to protect vulnerable researchers in the academic field in the same way as safeguards exist today to protect vulnerable research participants.

Theoretically, however, I think that the fair allocation of authorship credit is possible, and much of this task is already being performed routinely when contributors determine the order of their names in the byline, being well aware of the widespread assumption that this order mostly mirrors the order of their relative contributions. All they would have to do as an additional task is to express this order in numbers. If they cannot reach a consensus, they could always choose not to express their relative contribution in numbers, in which case the presumption would be that they contributed equally. My proposal could, at best, make the system fairer and, at worst, not reduce the options that evaluators already have.

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