At a conference of journal editors last week, the head of one publication said the electronic fingerprints left on documents as they pass from one use to the next can help weed out ghostwritten articles.
Frederic Curtiss, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy, told Reuters Health that data attached to documents by Word has allowed him to discover undisclosed contributors. In one case, for instance, a revised manuscript arrived at his office with four named authors, but when he examined the metadata, he discovered an additional author was making substantial contributions.
When documents are saved in Word, the software attaches additional information, called metadata, which identifies the creator of the document. During the editing process, changes made by additional authors are also sometimes labeled with authors' names. Curtiss estimates that every third manuscript he receives has metadata that doesn't match listed authors, which can subsequently result in contributors being added to the acknowledgments, or, rarely, as additional authors.
Unfortunately, says Curtiss, he is losing the lead in the battle against ghostwriting. Sometimes, the metadata includes only the word "Author" or a number. "Now people are savvy about it," Curtiss says. "We are getting manuscripts where they have purposely removed data from the identification box."