Academic nepotism – all that glitters is not gold

DINESH KUMAR. V

Abstract


Dear Editor With increasing emphasis on publications for
faculty recruitment, career advancement
and obtaining research grants, the issues related
to author kinship and academic nepotism have
grown significantly and these probably reflect
the inflationary growth rather than the optimal
growth warranted due to increasing research
complexity. Allesina S (1) measured the full
magnitude of nepotism in the Italian academia
and found that this pervasive problem was a
blemish that undercuts the quality of advanced
education over there. According to her, this
process of showing favouritism towards close
relatives incentivize illegal hiring practices and
guarantees their career advancement regardless
of their merit. Even though the analysis of
shared last names cannot be considered a valid
tool for measuring the diffusion of nepotism in
any organization (2), we cannot deny its sheer
existence.
An analysis of 12,772 papers published in PLOS
ONE showed that 48% of the listed co-authors did
not fulfil the criteria for authorship, as their role
was meagre or absent in drafting the manuscript
(3). If we extrapolate these data to any settings,
we could enunciate that a substantial amount of
papers hoist the name of an expert (preferably
the kin of primary investigator) belonging to an
entirely different specialty or giving an authorship
instead of mere acknowledgement. Prosperi M et
al. (4) analyzed more than 21 million MEDLINE/
PubMed-indexed papers and documented that kin
authorship is a big menace for India, Italy and
Poland. Measuring nepotism is highly unlikely
in India, owing to the facts that Indian women in
academia prefer to maintain their maiden names
and wide usage of surnames. Number of cases
involving their spouses, lovers and domestic
partners would largely go underestimated,
thereby causing the statistical models to fail.
In the past, the recruitment and promotion
mechanisms were tacit, which had measured the
educational and research qualities in an informal
manner. This, on one hand gave rise to negative
connotations regarding nepotism and, on the
other hand, led to the formation of “academic
dynasties” in Indian medical academia. Since
the evolution of “publish or perish” culture,
the hiring/promotion process was replaced by
a formal, explicit and individually measurable
index. The existing scenario can be crosssectioned
by a participant’s comment in the study
conducted by Anderson et al. (5), “You can fail
to do everything else as long as you have lots and
lots of papers.” In the process of conferring the
aggregate output or research productivity, which
is a mere ‘pseudo-halo’, accomplished researchers
or clinicians sometimes promulgate their spouses
or get involved in reciprocal co-authorship, which
is yet another version of academic nepotism. In
a latest paper, Rivera H (6) proposes a 3 step
scheme for validating the genuine collaboration
and calls for a focused evaluation of research

productivity.
In summary, I wish to address the least
signified and unintended consequence of the
present day evaluation/appraisal mechanism
whereby a scholar is potentially assessed by the
number of publications he/she has. Considering
the fact that history of research in global arena
had witnessed conjoint efforts from egalitarian
couples, blanket recommendations are difficult to
be made. Nevertheless, we should not forget the
fact that academic nepotism often depresses the
health care professionals and adversely affects
their morale. I wish to conclude that academic
nepotism is yet another ethical dilemma,
which every administrator/selection committee
member needs to face and at times of making
crucial decisions (like hiring for a job) it is the
responsibility of them to uphold the legitimate
interests of the organization, more than personal
affiliations.


Keywords


kin authorship, publication, nepotism

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References


Allesina S. Measuring nepotism through shared last names: the case of Italian academia. PLoS One 2011; 6(8):e21160.

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

Sauermann H, Haeussler C. Authorship and contribution disclosures. Sci Adv 2017; 3(11):e1700404.

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.

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.

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.


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