Document Type: Letter to Editor

Author

Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry, India

Abstract

Dear Editor With increasing emphasis on publications forfaculty recruitment, career advancementand obtaining research grants, the issues relatedto author kinship and academic nepotism havegrown significantly and these probably reflectthe inflationary growth rather than the optimalgrowth warranted due to increasing researchcomplexity. Allesina S (1) measured the fullmagnitude of nepotism in the Italian academiaand found that this pervasive problem was ablemish that undercuts the quality of advancededucation over there. According to her, thisprocess of showing favouritism towards closerelatives incentivize illegal hiring practices andguarantees their career advancement regardlessof their merit. Even though the analysis ofshared last names cannot be considered a validtool for measuring the diffusion of nepotism inany organization (2), we cannot deny its sheerexistence.An analysis of 12,772 papers published in PLOSONE showed that 48% of the listed co-authors didnot fulfil the criteria for authorship, as their rolewas meagre or absent in drafting the manuscript(3). If we extrapolate these data to any settings,we could enunciate that a substantial amount ofpapers hoist the name of an expert (preferablythe kin of primary investigator) belonging to anentirely different specialty or giving an authorshipinstead of mere acknowledgement. Prosperi M etal. (4) analyzed more than 21 million MEDLINE/PubMed-indexed papers and documented that kinauthorship is a big menace for India, Italy andPoland. Measuring nepotism is highly unlikelyin India, owing to the facts that Indian women inacademia prefer to maintain their maiden namesand wide usage of surnames. Number of casesinvolving their spouses, lovers and domesticpartners would largely go underestimated,thereby causing the statistical models to fail.In the past, the recruitment and promotionmechanisms were tacit, which had measured theeducational and research qualities in an informalmanner. This, on one hand gave rise to negativeconnotations regarding nepotism and, on theother hand, led to the formation of “academicdynasties” in Indian medical academia. Sincethe evolution of “publish or perish” culture,the hiring/promotion process was replaced bya formal, explicit and individually measurableindex. The existing scenario can be crosssectionedby a participant’s comment in the studyconducted by Anderson et al. (5), “You can failto do everything else as long as you have lots andlots of papers.” In the process of conferring theaggregate output or research productivity, whichis a mere ‘pseudo-halo’, accomplished researchersor clinicians sometimes promulgate their spousesor get involved in reciprocal co-authorship, whichis yet another version of academic nepotism. Ina latest paper, Rivera H (6) proposes a 3 stepscheme for validating the genuine collaborationand calls for a focused evaluation of researchproductivity.In summary, I wish to address the leastsignified and unintended consequence of thepresent day evaluation/appraisal mechanismwhereby a scholar is potentially assessed by thenumber of publications he/she has. Consideringthe fact that history of research in global arenahad witnessed conjoint efforts from egalitariancouples, blanket recommendations are difficult tobe made. Nevertheless, we should not forget thefact that academic nepotism often depresses thehealth care professionals and adversely affectstheir morale. I wish to conclude that academicnepotism is yet another ethical dilemma,which every administrator/selection committeemember needs to face and at times of makingcrucial decisions (like hiring for a job) it is theresponsibility of them to uphold the legitimateinterests of the organization, more than personalaffiliations.

Keywords

  1. Allesina S. Measuring nepotism through shared last names: the case of Italian academia. PLoS One 2011; 6(8):e21160.
  2. Ferlazzo F, Sdoia S. Measuring Nepotism through Shared Last Names: Are We Really Moving from Opinions to Facts? PLoS ONE 2012; 7(8): e43574. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043574
  3. Sauermann H, Haeussler C. Authorship and contribution disclosures. Sci Adv 2017; 3(11):e1700404.
  4. Prosperi M, Buchan I, Fanti I, Meloni S, Palladino P, Torvik VI. Kin of coauthorship in five decades of health science literature. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016; 113(32):8957-62.
  5. Anderson MS, Ronning EA, De Vries R, Martinson BC. The perverse effects of competition on scientists’ work and relationship. Science and Engineering Ethics 2007; 13, 437–461.
  6. Rivera H. Inappropriate Authorship and Kinship in Research Evaluation. J Korean Med Sci 2018 Mar 26; 33(13):e105. https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2018.33.e105.