Hostage authorship and the problem of dirty hands

Research Ethics
Volume 14, Issue 1, Jan – Mar 2018

Original Article; Non-Empirical
Hostage authorship and the problem of dirty hands
William Bülow, Gert Helgesson
First Published April 2, 2018; pp. 1–9
This article discusses gift authorship, the practice where co-authorship is awarded to a person who has not contributed significantly to the study. From an ethical point of view, gift authorship raises concerns about desert, fairness, honesty and transparency, and its prevalence in research is rightly considered a serious ethical concern. We argue that even though misuse of authorship is always bad, there are instances where accepting requests of gift authorship may nevertheless be the right thing to do. More specifically, we propose that researchers may find themselves in a situation much similar to the problem of dirty hands, which has been frequently discussed in political philosophy and applied ethics. The problem of dirty hands is relevant to what we call hostage authorship, where the researchers include undeserving authors unwillingly, and only because they find it unavoidable in order to accomplish a morally important research goal.