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The Curious Case of Ghosts and Gifts in Psychology Research: A Whimsical Exploration.

Updated: Feb 3

In the domain of psychological research, an intriguing survey titled "Ghosts and Gifts in Psychology Research" was launched by pioneering researchers in Belgium. This investigation delved into the shadowy aspects of psychological studies, revealing the complexities and ethical dilemmas surrounding authorship practices.

Gert Storms (Source:
Gert Storms (Source:

The survey, a magical mirror reflecting the experiences of over 800 psychology researchers, revealed a world where nearly half had encountered the mysterious phenomena of gift and ghost authorship. Gift authorship, akin to a phantom presence, involved names appearing as authors on papers without contributing a single word or idea. Meanwhile, ghost authorship was its elusive counterpart, where significant contributors were mysteriously omitted from the author list, like invisible scholars.

Gert Storms, a wise professor from KU Leuven and a scribe of this intriguing tale, lamented the lack of attention paid to these authorship antics compared to other scholarly misdeeds. Despite his efforts, the manuscript of the survey's results faced rejection thrice, shrouded in concerns about informed consent. Thus, the data remained a closely guarded secret.

Storms, a seasoned observer of the academic realm, recalled his early days when a colleague received a byline on his paper merely for conjuring grant money, contributing nothing else. This practice, he noted, was a clever strategy for some, as it influenced the distribution of research wealth and academic fame.

In the world of academia, where the mantra of 'publish or perish' reigned supreme, gift authorship was a cunning tool. It allowed researchers to amass publications, a currency crucial for recognition and survival in the scholarly kingdom. Storms mused on the impossibility of producing meaningful work at the rate of one paper every eight or nine days, questioning the authenticity of such prolific outputs.

Comparatively, the biomedical field seemed to be in the grips of a more severe epidemic of gift and ghost authorship, with higher reported instances than in psychology. This was particularly prevalent in areas with frequent industry collaborations, where the credibility of findings sometimes dictated the invisibility of certain authors.

The survey also delved into the murky waters of authorship criteria, which varied across academic institutions. While the American Psychological Association and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors had their guidelines, defining 'substantial contribution' remained a subject of debate.

Steven De Peuter, another scholar from KU Leuven and co-author of the study, emphasized the need for open discussions about authorship criteria to foster fairness and transparency. He observed that authorship disputes often stemmed from deeper conflicts within research teams.

Alex Holcombe, a professor from the University of Sydney, highlighted the limitations of traditional authorship systems. He championed the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT), a more transparent approach categorizing each person's contributions, including roles often overlooked like software development and visualization.

In conclusion, this whimsical exploration into the world of psychology research authorship reveals a landscape where transparency and fairness are often clouded by the ghosts and gifts of authorship. As the story unfolds, it beckons the academic community to ponder and perhaps rewrite the rules of authorship, ensuring every contribution, visible or invisible, is rightfully acknowledged in the grand narrative of scientific discovery.

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