Ethical Principles

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Academe's competitive "publish-or-perish" mindset can be a recipe for trouble when it comes to who gets credit for authorship. The best way to avoid disagreements about who should get credit and in what order is to talk about these issues at the beginning of a working relationship, even though many people often feel uncomfortable about such topics.

"It's almost like talking about money," explains Tangney. "People don't want to appear to be greedy or presumptuous."

APA's 2002 Ethics Code offers some guidance: It specifies that "faculty advisors discuss publication credit with students as early as feasible and throughout the research and publication process as appropriate." When researchers and students put such understandings in writing, they have a helpful tool to continually discuss and evaluate contributions as the research progresses.

However, even the best plans can result in disputes, which often occur because people look at the same situation differently. "While authorship should reflect the contribution," says APA Ethics Office Director Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD, "we know from social science research that people often overvalue their contributions to a project. We frequently see that in authorship-type situations. In many instances, both parties genuinely believe they're right." APA's Ethics Code stipulates that psychologists take credit only for work they have actually performed or to which they have substantially contributed and that publication credit should accurately reflect the relative contributions: "Mere possession of an institutional position, such as department chair, does not justify authorship credit," says the 2002 code. "Minor contributions to the research or to the writing for publications are acknowledged appropriately, such as in footnotes or in an introductory statement."

The same rules apply to students. If they contribute substantively to the conceptualization, design, execution, analysis or interpretation of the research...
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