In a recent blog about guest authorship I mentioned that training plays a crucial role in persuading researchers to follow ethical guidelines in medical publishing. It is true that many researchers do not know the exact meaning of plagiarism. This is especially the case for many non-native English language researchers who do not have sufficient English writing capabilities. But can we link this to other aspects of ethical misconduct such as guest authorship or biased peer review.
What we have faced in our eastern community, which is somehow different from the western ones, is a situation I call the “Culture of Compliment”. I use this term when authors feel compelled to put the name of a senior colleague in the byline of their article even though the senior researcher did not contribute to it because they feel it would be rude not to. Or when a reviewer deliberately ignores some shortcomings in an article written by his/her previous professor.
Respect to elders or seniors has a longstanding base in most eastern countries. Teachers have a respected position among people in these countries, in accordance with religious guidelines in Muslim countries. So for some authors in our community who put their seniors’ (as their previous teacher) names in the byline of their article, the act may actually be considered ethical. I am not going to justify the behavior but just explain the situation, which should not be ignored.
This is an issue that cannot be resolved with guidelines or flowcharts, which are usually released by ethical watchdogs. It is time to consider this fact when we propose guidelines for suitable ethical behavior. And as most such guidelines are released by authorities in western countries who may not have the same concern, this issue may have not been considered appropriately.
Behrooz Astaneh is a BMJ visiting editor