CRediT where credit is due

Like all common-sense things, DORA is really difficult to argue against.  The main message is do not use collective information as a proxy for the individual components. But what does that mean?

If you see a field full of sheep and most of them are Beulah Speckled Face sheep but a few are Bluefaced Leicester, you might say “ooh look, a field of mainly Speckled Face sheep” – this does not mean that all the sheep in the field are Speckled Face, and it certainly does not mean that next year all the sheep in the field will be Speckled Face either.  The next field along may also have a mix of and sheep, perhaps a few more Bluefaced ones, but it still has some Speckled Face sheep in it – if you are looking for a Speckled Face sheep, then either field will do… just open your eyes and look at the faces!

Top photo from; bottom photo provided by author

So now: CRediT – the Contributor Role Taxonomy, which captures the specific contributions of each author in a research article. All authors make unique contributions to a piece of work that cannot be articulated by looking at an author list.  For the increasingly rare single-author publication, it is clear who contributed what to the article.  However, multi-author publications are common and, in this case, it is not so clear who did what (I’ll come to why this information might be useful later on). Some subject areas have traditions: alphabetical, main author first and head of department last.  But, unless you are one of the authors, how do you know what role each person played in producing the article?  CRediT provides a standard taxonomy of author role contributions where the authors can indicate what part of the process they took part in, and hence get the appropriate credit for the work they did.

In 2012, a group of people met to address this issue and from that convening the Contributor Role Taxonomy was born.  CRediT defines fourteen roles:

1 Conceptualization Ideas; formulation or evolution of overarching research goals and aims.
2 Data curation Management activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the data itself) for initial use and later re-use.
3 Formal analysis Application of statistical, mathematical, computational, or other formal techniques to analyse or synthesize study data.
4 Funding acquisition Acquisition of the financial support for the project leading to this publication.
5 Investigation Conducting a research and investigation process, specifically performing the experiments, or data/evidence collection.
6 Methodology Development or design of methodology; creation of models.
7 Project administration Management and coordination responsibility for the research activity planning and execution.
8 Resources Provision of study materials, reagents, materials, patients, laboratory samples, animals, instrumentation, computing resources, or other analysis tools.
9 Software Programming, software development; designing computer programs; implementation of the computer code and supporting algorithms; testing of existing code components.
10 Supervision Oversight and leadership responsibility for the research activity planning and execution, including mentorship external to the core team.
11 Validation Verification, whether as a part of the activity or separate, of the overall replication/reproducibility of results/experiments and other research outputs.
12 Visualization Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically visualization/data presentation.
13 Writing – original draft Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically writing the initial draft (including substantive translation).
14 Writing – review & editing Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work by those from the original research group, specifically critical review, commentary or revision – including pre- or post-publication stages.

Each contributor (author) can claim multiple roles, and depending on the output, not all roles need to be covered.  If the journal supports CRediT, this is included in the metadata (see an example here), which means it is machine-readable and can be passed to other systems, but you can use it yourself in plain text too (see an example here) if the journal does not (yet).  And of course ask them to join the ranks of publishers (including the likes of Elsevier, PLOS, Springer, and Wiley), integrators, and publishing outlets that now have built-in support for capturing these standard author role contributions.

Okay, so we have metadata describing author contributions, but how is it useful and who does it help?

  • Authors – affirm the contribution that you made (and avoid difficult conversations with colleagues later), find complimentary expertise for future collaborations
  • Publishers – provide more information for readers, reduce number of author disputes, and find peer reviewers based on more detailed information of their expertise
  • Universities – much more useful to understand specific author contributions for hiring, promotion, and tenure processes
  • Funders – identify more easily expertise of potential grantees, and find peer reviewers
  • Bibliometricians – a rich source of data for analysis, for example see initial data (slides 33-35) from Cassidy R. Sugimoto and Vincent Larivière, and more recently at Force18 by Cory Craig, Alison O’Connell, and Mohammed Hosseini

While using CRediT does require some effort at the submission or publication stage, it provides wide-ranging benefits to the community. You would be a baaaa’d person not to give CRediT where credit is due.

Dr. Simon Kerridge is the Director of Research Services at the University of Kent and a lifelong (well it seems like it) Research Manager and Administrator. He is the Chair of CASRAI, and former Chair of ARMA; you can find him on Twitter @SimonRKerridge.  No sheep were harmed in the creation of this blog post.

Guest blog posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of DORA.

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