Thursday, June 7, 2007


Looking through the literature, you see some papers with twenty-plus authors and others with only two or three. Maybe it is just a difference between papers coming out of industry versus those produced by academia. Sometimes I have to wonder if all twenty authors really contributed much at all to a six page paper, or maybe it is just a system of "you pat my back and I'll pat yours" (or "I'll include you on this publication if you include my name on your next one"). On the other hand, how many key people were left out of the typical two author paper? Does the undergrad who helped synthesize a key compound (through a method you carefully worked out for weeks beforehand) get left out of the author list? How about a visiting scientist that contributed ideas and demonstrated new techniques to a group? Is she kept on a publication because of the contribution of original ideas and thoughts, or do you leave her off because she didn't physically complete any of the actual experiments?

Is it enough to contribute time/manual labor? Is it enough to contribute only ideas? Or is it necessary for one to contribute both to be worthy of authorship? I've heard people say that it's only really necessary to look at the first and last author of an article, and if that's the case the debate over authorship doesn't really matter.

I'm for citing ALL of those involved in a project, no matter how small a part they played (meaning inclusion as authors, in the acknowledgments or in the references section under "personal communication"). What are your opinions?


Jean-Claude Bradley said...

You've identified a key problem of the standard model of scientific communication that is much better addressed using wikis. I've just blogged about this in the context of my student writing her thesis on our wiki.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone being included who did work on the particular experiment in the article. Another issue that irks me is the placement of the researcher who was first author. I have always been told by my boss that the person who did the most work goes first, but you see these big name chemists, who shall remain nameless, letting their ego get in the way and always citing their name first. It is a little unnerving.

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