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Authorship, plagiarism and conflict of interest: views and practices from low/middle-income country health researchers
  1. Anke Rohwer1,
  2. Taryn Young1,2,
  3. Elizabeth Wager3,4,
  4. Paul Garner5
  1. 1 Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
  2. 2 Cochrane South Africa, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3 Sideview, Princes Risborough, UK
  4. 4 School of Medicine, University of Split, Split, Croatia
  5. 5 Department of Clinical Sciences, Centre for Evidence Synthesis in Global Health, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Anke Rohwer; arohwer{at}


Objectives To document low/middle-income country (LMIC) health researchers’ views about authorship, redundant publication, plagiarism and conflicts of interest and how common poor practice was in their institutions.

Design We developed a questionnaire based on scenarios about authorship, redundant publication, plagiarism and conflicts of interest. We asked participants whether the described practices were acceptable and whether these behaviours were common at their institutions. We conducted in-depth interviews with respondents who agreed to be interviewed.

Participants We invited 607 corresponding authors of Cochrane reviews working in LMICs. From the 583 emails delivered, we obtained 199 responses (34%). We carried out in-depth interviews with 15 respondents.

Results Seventy-seven per cent reported that guest authorship occurred at their institution, 60% reported text recycling. For plagiarism, 12% of respondents reported that this occurred ‘occasionally’, and 24% ‘rarely’. Forty per cent indicated that their colleagues had not declared conflicts of interest in the past. Respondents generally recognised poor practice in scenarios but reported that they occurred at their institutions. Themes identified from in-depth interviews were (1) authorship rules are simple in theory, but not consistently applied; (2) academic status and power underpin behaviours; (3) institutions and culture fuel bad practices and (4) researchers are uncertain about what conflict of interests means and how this may influence research.

Conclusions LMIC researchers report that guest authorship is widely accepted and common. While respondents report that plagiarism and undeclared conflicts of interest are unacceptable in practice, they appear common. Determinants of poor practice relate to academic status and power, fuelled by institutional norms and culture.

  • research integrity
  • authorship
  • plagiarism
  • conflict of interest
  • survey
  • interviews

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to the design of the study. AR collected and analysed data, with input from EW, TY and PG. AR drafted the manuscript. PG, TY and EW critically engaged with the manuscript and provided input. All authors have approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding All authors are supported by the Effective Health Care Research Consortium. This Consortium is funded by UK aid from the UK Government for the benefit of developing countries (grant: 5242).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect UK government policy.

  • Competing interests All authors have completed the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors uniform disclosure form at and declare: financial support from the Effective Health Care Research Consortium. EW is a self-employed consultant and received personal fees for training related to publication ethics outside of the study. All authors are involved with Cochrane, and EW is the author of a Cochrane systematic review on interventions to promote research integrity.

  • Ethics approval Stellenbosch University Health Research Ethics Committee (N14/12/158).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Unpublished data from the survey can be obtained upon request from AR.

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