Responding to devious demands for co-authorship: A rejoinder to Bülow and Helgesson’s ‘dirty hands’ justification

Research Ethics 14 (4):1-7 (2018)
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Abstract

Bülow and Helgesson discussed the practice of gift/honorary authorships and expounded on a most devious form of these, termed ‘hostage authorship’. The authors drew a parallel of such situations in research and publishing with the problem of ‘dirty hands’. In this case, acceding, albeit with regrets, may well be ‘… what we ought to do, even if it requires us to do something that is intrinsically bad’, especially if ‘this is both practically necessary and proportionate to the end’. Here, I caution against this being a morally cogent, normative course of action. Tangible benefits from research not yet performed or published could not be predicted with any certainty, and as such could not be deemed sufficiently important to override moral constraints of justice and fairness. The utilitarian argument for any measure of beneficence with ‘dirty hands’ could therefore be nothing more than a self-serving act, or a self-exonerating form of moral disengagement. Such actions could have lasting ill effects on junior...

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