Authors may come alone or in pairs or trios. Or more. Today, more and more frequently, they come as part of a group. There is nothing wrong with group authorship—groups can accomplish great things. But if a group is named in the byline as sole author or in addition to individually named authors, all members of the group are still being presented as authors and all must meet authorship requirements.
This is a point of contention or difficulty for some authors (or some groups), who wish to have only the name of the group in the byline even if only a small number of the members of the group (eg, the Writing Committee) meet the standards of authorship set forth by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and outlined on the authorship forms required by our journals.
What to do? The AMA Manual of Style lists an option to address both concerns: (1) authors who want only a group name to appear in the byline, even if all members of the group do not meet authorship criteria, and (2) journals that want to adhere to the criteria for authorship outlined by the ICMJE. Let’s call this the “asterisk solution.” An asterisk is placed after the group name in the byline, and this links to an asterisked footnote that indicates which members of the group met authorship criteria.
The asterisk solution often is a happy one for both authors and journal editors (and it allows readers to see who the true authors are). But sometimes even the asterisk is objected to. The editors of 3 ophthalmology journals (Archives of Ophthalmology, American Journal of Ophthalmology, and Ophthalmology) found strength in numbers. In August 2010, the 3 editors published a jointly written editorial in each of their journals, outlining the “asterisk solution” policy from the AMA Manual of Style and announcing that they planned to hold firm to this policy in their journals.
Being an author is a form of recognition and can add to one’s reputation. It also represents a responsibility. The asterisk solution bestows recognition and responsibility with a single character.—Cheryl Iverson, MA