Bilbo: Yet, after all why not? Why shouldn't I keep it? … It’s mine, I found it …
Gandalf: There's no need to get angry! …
Bilbo: You want it for yourself! …
Gandalf: Bilbo Baggins!!! Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks!!! I am not trying to rob you. I'm trying to help you.
—The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie
Over the past few years there has been an ongoing discussion about whether technical support should be acknowledged in research papers or not. There are still voices saying, “Since I’m paying for this service, I’m not obliged to acknowledge it”. But are these voices right? Do technicians and core research facility personnel deserve or need acknowledgment? Should all the services provided by a core research facility be acknowledged or merit co-authorship? Below we try to offer answers to these questions, as well as providing guidelines as to when, what and how to acknowledge.
The short answer is “Yes, services provided by a core research facility should always be acknowledged, but do not always merit authorship rights”. Core research facilities provide the research community with state-of-the-art instrumentation and expertise, significantly impacting on the quality of the resultant research output. Personnel in core research facilities provide essential services to their users, enabling and accelerating research, and it is therefore important to recognise their contributions. There are different types of recognition, depending largely on the level of contribution provided. MC² has a policy to address the different types of acknowledgement and how they apply in different scenarios. This policy is based on several policies from UK Learned Societies.
Core research facilities consist of the cutting-edge technology required for research as well as highly-skilled individuals with advanced knowledge and expertise in their respective technology fields. These Instrument Specialist can make complex experiments possible, and provide essential support in very specialized technologies, often with an intellectual contribution to respective projects. Consider the following points if you are questioning the importance of acknowledging the contributions from core research facilities in publications, by co-authorship or by formal mention in the acknowledgments section:
- Core research facilities staff are scientists. Quite often these staff will go above and beyond the standard service provision and/or will make an essential intellectual/experimental contribution beyond routine sample or data acquisition/interpretation. In these instances, they deserve to be recognised and acknowledged on the publication (published articles, grant proposals, posters, conference talks, scholarly reports or presentations) just like any other co-author.
- The existence of core research facilities depends in part on proper acknowledgment in publications. The facilities are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their value to the research effort, and thus acknowledgement represents an important and visible measure of the impact of the facility. This is vital for the continued existence of core research facilities and their provision of high-quality services, as it enables them to secure support and essential funding. Moreover, it contributes to career advancement of the core personnel, adding to the overall health of the facility.
- If core research facilities staff have effective oversight of the publication and co-authorship where deserved, it will avoid the risk of data misinterpretation, and help ensure the data are accurately conveyed and described.
In short, authorship is merited when someone makes a substantive contribution to a project e.g.: i) conception, design of project, critical input, or original ideas; ii) acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation, beyond routine practices; iii) draft the article or revise it critically for intellectual content; iv) write a portion of the paper (not just materials and methods section); v) intellectual contribution; and final authority for the approval of article.
The following activities do not represent intellectual contributions to a project and would not constitute authorship: i) providing funding only, ii) collection of data (technical skill but not involved in interpretation of data), iii) general supervision of research group, but no intellectual input into the project. Nevertheless, all contributors that do not meet the criteria of authorship should be recognized in the acknowledgements section (e.g. for paid technical help, writing assistance, financial and material support, or scientific advice, etc.).