How do you decide authorship order?

Authorship of scientific papers matters because it’s a way of claiming credit and assigning responsibility. The authors are all and only those people who are entitled to claim credit for the work reported in the paper. And they’re responsible for the work reported in the paper, and so (for instance) are the ones who get blamed if the paper turns out to be flawed and needs to be corrected or retracted. Further, order of authorship traditionally provides information about the relative contributions of the authors–degree of credit and responsibility, if you like. So, how do you decide who the authors are on your papers, and in what order they’re listed?

My own approach, which I think used to be fairly standard in ecology and is still pretty common, is to think of a paper as arising from three main activities: conceiving and designing the study, conducting the study (e.g., collecting and analyzing the data), and writing the paper. You’re an author if you make a substantive contribution to at least two of those three. You’re the first author if your overall contribution exceeds that of any other author (typically, because you’ve made a substantial contribution to all three activities). And other authors are listed in decreasing order of their overall contribution.

My approach has some implications. It means people who contribute only to data collection, such as research assistants or technicians, wouldn’t be listed as authors (they would be listed in the Acknowledgments, of course). It means that the PI shouldn’t be listed as an author just by virtue of being the PI, or even if they came up with the basic idea for the project or gave some suggestions on study design but didn’t make any other contribution.

As sketched above, my approach obviously doesn’t cover all possible situations. It’s particularly ill-suited to big collaborations in which each of the “main” activities is subdivided among many people. But it at least provides a starting point for thinking about other situations. For instance, contrary to what I just said above, I do think it would be weird for someone not to be an author if they made a substantive contribution to the writing, even if they didn’t do anything else. But that situation rarely comes up in ecology (it comes up in medicine, where hiring “ghost authors” who write the paper but aren’t listed as authors, isn’t unheard of). Similarly, I could see making someone an author if they were largely or entirely responsible for developing and designing the project, even if they didn’t contribute much in other ways. As a grad student, I did a project that my supervisor had designed as part of a grant he got before I joined the lab. He handed the project to me to do, as a way to get the project done and as a training exercise for me. Not yet knowing much about the topic or the study system (that’s why I needed the training!), I followed his design and proposed analyses to the letter. I also wrote the paper. And then I had to talk him into being second author, as I didn’t feel comfortable being sole author without having made any contribution to the study design.

Underpinning all of this is the intuition that authorship should go to the people who make contributions of their own to the project, as opposed to people who contribute only by following instructions (as with research assistants who collect data as instructed but make no other contribution). On the other hand, data sharing is increasingly common and important in ecology. So it’s fairly common for people whose only contribution was to collect the data (or instruct others to collect the data) to expect co-authorship of any paper using their data. Especially when those data come from ongoing long-term studies and monitoring programs, that need to justify their continued funding by showing that their data are leading to lots of papers. I’ll be interested to see how attitudes on this issue develop in future. If in future data sharing goes from being valued to being expected or required, then it’s hard to see how sharing data should entitle you to claim co-authorship (i.e. credit and responsibility) for papers produced by others using data you collected. For instance, if you deposit gene sequences on GenBank (which journals, funding agencies, and professional norms require geneticists to do), you aren’t entitled to claim co-authorship of any papers that later use those sequences.

There are always judgment calls involved in determining authorship. For instance, if I just make some comments on a draft ms written by someone else, does that count as a “substantive” contribution to the writing? (I’d say it depends how numerous the comments were and how much the ms was altered by incorporating them) As with all judgment calls, I think the way you learn to make them is to make them, and to talk about ones others have made. General principles only get you so far; there’s no substitute for thinking about specific cases.

The above is merely my approach to authorship. Different people have different approaches, which is a bit of a problem since others can’t interpret authorship order properly if they don’t know how it was determined. Many cellular and molecular fields are pretty much the opposite of ecology: the last author, not the first author, is considered to be most important. The last author is usually the PI. Indeed, in many molecular labs the PI is always the last author on every paper produced by the lab, presumably on the view that the PI is ultimately the one responsible for all of the lab’s work. I hear from colleagues that this approach to authorship is starting to creep into ecology, which dismays me. It’s totally foreign to how I was trained, and it smacks of allowing external incentives to determine authorship. On the other hand, as someone who (like everyone) has strong incentives to have my name on as many papers as possible, I admit that I feel tempted to take a more expansive attitude towards authorship than my supervisor took. I do wonder if the average number of authors per paper is going up in all fields of science not just because we’re all becoming more collaborative, but because we’re all taking a more expansive attitude and lowering the bar on authorship, so that we can all put our names on more papers.

Perhaps the way to deal with this is to get away from authorship order as a means of apportioning and recording credit and responsibility. Authorship order was fine as a summary of authors’ overall contributions when few papers had more than 2-3 authors, but times have changed. I think it’s great that some journals now require statements of author contributions, which are published as part of the paper (e.g., “John Doe designed the study, John and Jane Doe performed the experiments and analyzed the data, and Jane Doe wrote the paper with assistance from John Doe.”) I’ve sometimes included such statements in the Acknowledgments even when not required to do so, and I plan to always do so in future. I’d encourage others to do the same.

The other universal piece of advice I can give is that everyone involved in a project should talk about how authorship of any future papers will be decided as early as possible, ideally before the project even begins. That means, for instance, that supervisors should talk about authorship with their grad students before the students even start designing their research projects, and collaborators should talk about authorship before they actually begin working. I actually talk to prospective students about my general approach to authorship issues when they visit my lab. Far better to address the issue early on, at least in a broad way, than to have to deal with disagreements and misunderstandings later. Similarly, all authors should discuss and approve a statement of author contributions as early on as feasible.

38 thoughts on “How do you decide authorship order?

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I have to disagree with one specific point. When you say that authorship should be discussed before the project even started. What about the situation where you do this agreement, but during the course of the project people that had scheduled a big responsibility and were established as authors kinda fade way and other people that were not even considered to be an author make huge collaborations in any of those requirements that you specified. I believe that deal if this situation, to remove someone from being an author of a paper after the authorship was decided, is much harder than set the authorship based on the actual contributions during the course of the project.

    • I agree with Jeremy’s response, but it also speaks to the importance of continued discussion during the lifetime of the project. You necessarily don’t have to make authorship conditional on prior agreements, but you do have to ensure that authorship reflects appropriate contributions to the group, but this is a fluid thing. What happens if a contributor drafts text and figures, but then that particular section of a paper gets cut for one reason or another (in review for example)?

      The ongoing discussion of authorship is particularly important in large collaborative projects where people may come and go due to funding constraints, and where the major synthesis papers may require many contributors, even if there’s a place for only one lead author. I’ve been moving toward a model of the authorship contribution statement in my own papers, with multiple classes of contribution. We assign High, Medium and Low contribution, but this tool is only really useful if the tenure/hiring/grant committee is willing to look deeper than authorship order, and that’s the real key: Getting institutional buy in.

  2. I agree that there are many ways to do this, and I like your approach. My key advice, like you, is to be open and communicative about it from the start. I even recommend discussing what happens if things don’t go as planned (more data needed, substantial rewrite of ms, etc…) Finally, I think we should all make a push to include author contributions at the end of all papers regardless of whether or not they are required. What’s the cost? It would help make the system more transparent, and would allow individuals to make their own decisions re authorship.

  3. I agree with most of what you say, particularly the last paragraph about discussing authorship before it becomes an issue. The idea of explicitly declaring contributions of each author is also a good one that should become standard.

    However I think your criterion for authorship of significant contribution to 2 of 3 areas (conceiving, conducting, writing) is too restrictive. My own rule of thumb is significant contribution to any of these areas. After all, it’s theoretically possible that your criterion could leave a paper with no authors! 🙂

    What constitutes a significant contribution? That’s where it can get messy. Having been on both sides of this, I think it’s better to err on the side of inclusion than exclusion. If there’s any question at all, the lead author should offer co-authorship and let the other person decide. The incremental cost of including someone is so much lower than the bad karma of not rewarding those who have contributed to a paper. You might say it dilutes the value of authorship, but once you get past two authors, everyone who’s not first author is just part of “et al.” anyhow. It’s not like we give equal credit to a sole author vs. fifth out of nine. The only ambiguity is in that last spot — is it the mastermind or is it the lowest lackey? Figuring this out requires some external info but usually isn’t too hard to guess.

    In defense of including PI’s: those grants don’t write themselves. Typically a proposal requires a LOT of conceptual work, and lays out the main areas of research, particular questions, and methods. This alone is a very significant contribution. Add in the brainstorming, troubleshooting, and advising once the work is underway, and the writing and rewriting at the end, and I think most PI’s earn their position at the end of the author list! Self-funded grad students / postdocs are different, but why would you want to work in someone’s lab if you don’t want to collaborate with them? Science is more fun as a team sport, so we try to encourage collaboration among everyone in our lab.

    What’s less clear to me: authorship in working groups and research networks. Any ideas for guidelines there?

    • Hi Chris,

      Re: my criteria possibly leading to a paper with no authors, ha ha. In practice, that would of course require very weird circumstances.

      Re: erring on the side of inclusion when there’s doubt, I mostly agree. I’d only hesitate in cases where the doubt is about whether to include the PI, or someone else more senior or powerful than the authors who definitely will be included. As a PI myself, trying to resist the obvious incentives I have to stick my name on every paper that comes out of my lab, I’m a bit wary of rules of thumb that encourage me to give in to those incentives. I don’t want to be taking credit that really should be going to my students.

      Which gets to the issue (which another commenter also raised) of whether to include the PI on the grounds that the PI wrote the grants that funded the lab, advised and trained the students, etc. As I’m sure the post and my remarks in the previous paragraph made clear, I have mixed feelings about that, for several reasons. One reason is that ecology students often do projects unrelated to any grant the PI wrote. My own PhD, with the exception of one chapter, was my own stuff. After my work was well underway, Peter did include it in an NSF grant, but that was after the fact. And now that I’m a Canadian PI, where there’s no expectation that I’ll do the work I proposed to do in my NSERC Discovery Grant (there’s only the expectation that I’ll do good science), it’s harder for me to say with a clean conscience “My name should go on that because I paid for it.” I did indeed pay for it, but not for work on that topic *specifically*. And similarly with contributions via advising. They’re substantial, obviously. But are they *authorial*? I mean, in a very real sense, the training a student receives in my lab is going to be crucial to every paper they write after they leave my lab. If I’m entitled to co-authorship because of the training and advice I’ve provided while they were my students, why do I stop being entitled to co-authorship on those grounds after they leave my lab? Plus, at NSERC in Canada, grant applications are scored on three criteria, one of which is training of students and other “highly qualified personnel”, and another of which is “research contributions”. Research contributions are publications and other outputs with your name on them. Now, NSERC doesn’t offer any guidelines on co-authorship. But there is a sense, I think (at least, it’s my own feeling) that it would be “double counting” to add yourself as an author to your students’ papers just because you trained them.

      None of which is to really strongly disagree with you. I think you and the other commenters who’ve raised this have hit on an important grey area. A student of mine and I were just talking recently about whether I ought to be a co-author on a paper he’ll be writing, and we’re both unsure. And it’s exactly the sort of situation we’ve been discussing. My contribution as a PI has been to pay for his work, give him some general training, serve as a sounding board for his ideas, and give him some feedback on rough drafts (feedback that never hugely alters the content, and never rises to the level of actually writing any chunks of text myself). Does that make me a co-author? I suspect for many PI’s, perhaps including you, the answer would be a pretty clear “yes”. And I can understand that and don’t have any problem with anyone who takes that view. But for me, I’m on the fence.

      • The situation is different for self-funded grads (who have fellowships or TA), but in the case of RA’s, I don’t feel like NSF grant funds should be redirected to “unrelated projects”. There’s some flexibility how you reach your goals, but the goals should remain the same.

        One approach would be to consider a grant-funded RA a 20 hours a week commitment, with the rest of the student’s time is theirs for independent projects. But isn’t it in everyone’s interest if the student’s 20 hour commitment is also advancing their thesis research rather than just paying the bills? It shouldn’t be too hard for students to crack off a chunk of a bigger project and make it their own. At least that’s my ideal situation.

      • Here’s a clear line in the sand for you: would the publication happen, without your input/intellectual (non-financial) contribution during the course if the project and/or the write up?

        If yes, then as PI you probably shouldn’t be listed. If no, then your contribution to that project was essential and deserves authorship recognition.

        This neatly differentiates between post-training submissions by former students and during-training submissions, and also identifies papers from them in their later careers that actually do deserve your name as an author.

    • Oh, and re: authorship for working groups and research networks, that’s a great question, to which I don’t have much of an answer. I’ve only ever participated in a couple of working groups. In both, it was decided in advance–like, literally the first thing we did at our first meeting, after we all introduced ourselves–was to decide that we’d all be authors on every paper the group produced, in alphabetical order after the lead author (the lead author being the person who took the lead on doing the analyses and writing the paper). I think that was necessary in order to ensure that everybody in the group would be fully committed to participating in the group. Even though it may well mean that particular papers that emerge from the group might have some folks listed as authors who didn’t actually contribute much to those particular papers. But like I said, I don’t have much working group experience. I too would be very interested to hear from others on how they handle this.

  4. Good post – I agree! I wrote something similar a while back, with a ‘system’ for determining whether or not someone ought to be an author on a paper; many of the ideas are similar to what you write about – which is good – I think there is ‘general’ agreement about authorship in ecology (although reasonable people do often disagree, and despite best intentions, authorship issues can be significant)

    The more we talk and write about this, the better. In my experience, graduate students don’t always have a good sense of this topic, and it’s the sort of thing that needs to be discussed in detail in lab meetings, and as part of ‘grad student orientation’ sessions at Unis, etc.

  5. The International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution held last May identified some of the problems with current authorship conventions and attempted to find some solutions. The report was published last September (; declaration, I wrote the report) and includes (p6) guidelines on authorship and contributorship that might help avoid misunderstandings, mis/non-attribution and disputes in research groups and collaborative projects:

    (i) Have a clear authorship/contributorship policy.
    (ii) Discuss and document individual contributor roles and provisional authorship early on, ideally at the start of the project before work begins.
    (iii) Review contributions as the work progresses, revise roles and authorship accordingly until journal submission.
    (iv) Keep a descriptive authorship contribution list.
    (v) Document the reasons for author/contributor additions and deletions, and get agreement for changes from all individuals.
    (vi) Make sure all authors/contributors see and approve the final manuscript.

    Report also at,_May_16,_2012/96831

  6. As a slight modification to Jeremy’s 2/3 three rule I thought I would post the 3/5 rule my previous adviser used for authorship qualification. Her five potential criteria were, 1) Acquired Project Funding, 2) Research Design, 3) Data Collection, 4) Data Analysis, 5) Writing. By way of recognizing the contributions of PIs in grant writing it addresses some of the misgivings that were brought up in previous posts.

    It does still suggest that sharing data in itself is not a qualification for authorship. As I have had little experience with this issue I’ll raise another question. Do you feel that having a restrictive approach to authorship, for instance not granting authorship for data sharing, reduces your opportunities for collaboration? I see this as potential issue especially for those early in their career.

  7. Hi Jeremy and others,

    i think conventions as they stand create the push to get on to the authorship. Identifying ‘minor’ contributors in publications could reduce ambiguous authorship, and give a measureable credit to the minor contributors and therefore be assimilated into professional targets:
    Perhaps authors should have to approve the manuscript while minor contributors approve their inclusion on a list of minor contributors associated with the publication……i suppose it’s a metrified version of an Acknowledgements.

  8. Here’s an analogy that just occurred to me re: including PI’s as authors strictly on the grounds that they’re the ones who paid for the work. In cases where someone else came up with the project (i.e. it’s not a project the PI actually proposed in a grant), but the PI paid for it, isn’t the PI basically in the same position as a funding agency? That is, the PI is basically prepared to pay for any sufficiently good idea that people working in his or her lab want to pursue, just as a funding agency is prepared to pay for any sufficiently good idea that anyone proposes. And we acknowledge funding agencies, we don’t list them or their officers as co-authors. So in this sort of situation, shouldn’t the PI just be acknowledged rather than being listed as a co-author?

    • But wouldn’t that, at least in some cases, reduce the incentive for the PI to fund the work? If the PI could alternatively put his/her money into a project where they’d get authorship (that they could then list on future grant proposals), why be a funding agency for your students? Obviously, this is a little extreme — PI’s should want their students to succeed, but if you’re a PI who’s tight on funds…

      • @Margaret — yes, certainly this would reduce the incentive for the PI to fund the work. However, it would be a truly bizarre lab where a PI had the option to fund work in which they had zero intellectual interest, and where they made zero intellectual contribution.

        As a rule, PIs _are_not_ funding agencies for students, and if they’re behaving that way, they are being irresponsible stewards of the resources that have been made available to them. PIs are vested with resources by their institutions or various funding agencies, with the explicit mandate that they use those resources to advance the research profile of the institution, and/or contribute to the research portfolio of the agency. It would be a significant breach of duty to expend those resources in a consciously sub-optimal manner, and spending them funding students and projects in which the PI can make no intellectual contribution, would be highly sub-optimal.

        There may be environments where faculty are given funding specifically to disburse to students, however there should be a distinction made between faculty who are teaching students and disbursing funding because that’s an “assigned duty”, and PIs who have students working “in their labs/research groups”, and who are expected to be subject/domain experts working towards specific scientific goals, and for which the funding sources expect those students (which are a significant cost) to be being trained, at the highest level, in that subject/domain.

    • Absolutely – and this is why the “is the PI an author” decision must rest on intellectual contribution, rather than funding. There is /no way/ I’m listing my sponsored project officer as an author on something, just because he talks a donor into giving me money.

      On the other hand, regardless of whether a PI provides funding, if they were an active contributor to the intellectual content of the work _during the work_ even if this is “only” at the level of guiding the people doing it, then that PI definitely should be listed as an author.

      This is a two-edged sword, and it is _not_ double-dipping in terms of representing your contribution. The authors list absolutely _needs_ to contain those who are responsible for the work.

      As an almost aside, graduating the student, is the “column I check for mentoring them” evidence of your contribution to their educational trajectory and where credit for that mentorship is derived.

      Credit for, _and_responsibility_for_ the paper, is a separate topic, and absolutely must be understood as a listing of those intellectually responsible, as well as those to whom credit is due. You _may_not_ absolve yourself of poor mentorship and guidance of a student, by leaving your name off of papers that they submit, while under your tutelage. If you have the authority to countermand the publication, and that publication has passed through your hands and the intellectual content is derived from your contributions and the presentation has been vetted by you, you absolutely do have a duty to include your name on the author list.

      If, and only if, the student is submitting a work that is independent of your contribution, and over which publication you have no executive authority, is it appropriate for your name to not be amongst the authors.

  9. Thanks for writing this post, Jeremy. It’s very timely for me as I’m figuring out authorship lists for the first time right now. I particularly like your division into three categories, as most of the advice I’ve gotten on authorship has just been, “did the person make a substantial contribution,” which is a rather broad statement. A couple tricky things I’m encountering:

    * What do you do with experts, whose expertise is key for putting together the paper? For example, if I need the help of taxonomists to figure out what the species in my study actually are, and I can’t do the work myself (no matter how long I take — I’ve tried it!), is that enough for authorship? By your 3-tiered approach, the answer would be ‘no’ unless they also helped with design (unlikely) or writing (possible). But they don’t have any incentive to collaborate otherwise.

    * What do you do with someone who had worked on design and also has done some analysis, but it turns out that the analysis is a dead-end and doesn’t end up in the manuscript? (Or alternatively, their contribution gets axed in review — I heard of specific example of this happening.) The resulting paper has none of their analysis, but they’ve put a lot of time and effort into the project.

    I, too, really like the statements of author contributions. Thanks for the idea of sticking them in the acknowledgements for journals who don’t require them.

    • Good questions Margaret. Not sure I have good answers, I’ve never encountered either situation myself (which isn’t to say they’re unusual situations; I just happen not to have run into them).

      Re: the expert who ID’d your samples, I think this is one of those situations where agreement in advance is key. As long as all concerned come to an agreement, even if a bit reluctantly (because you don’t see “ID’d the samples as a sufficiently large or intellectual contribution to merit co-authorship), that’s really the most important thing. This is also a situation where a statement of author contributions would be very helpful.

      Re: someone did a bunch of analyses that ended up on the “cutting room floor”, that’s a tough one. So I’ll punt: what have you or others done on encountering this situation? I suppose I might, as Chris suggested, err on the side of including people as authors, just to spare hard feelings.

      • In the one instance I know of where an author’s contributions were axed in review, the author remained on the paper. It’s rather harsh to do otherwise. But I’ve got another case where it’s prior to MS writing…

      • This just happened with me – I did a smallish but meaningful piece that was trimmed on account of the direction of the paper and how my piece didn’t fit in well with the story. (How we craft papers this way, that’s a different matter). The first author thought that I should remain on the paper, and I told him he should do whatever he thought was best. I ended up chiming in enough on the writing of it, though, that maybe I earned it regardless.

    • I believe part of the problem derives from a horribly elastic definition of “collaboration”. If the work with the taxonomists was really a collaboration, then I believe the answer should be yes, they should be authors. If the taxonomists however simply provided a service, then they should not be included as authors.

      This again cuts both ways – if the work is a collaboration, then the onus is on you to actually include adequate content in the manuscript to document their work. Part of what the taxonomists _need_ from collaboration, is publications that don’t just use the identified species names they produce, but that also document their work in arriving at those names. If it’s hard to identify the species, then the process of that identification should be documented, and the taxonomists deserve authorship for that documentation. If you have a collaboration and can’t do that for logistics reasons in _your_ manuscript, then it is your duty to provide whatever reciprocal support is necessary for them to publish that work in their own manuscript.

      If you’re not doing this, then you’re not shouldering appropriate responsibility as a collaborator. Not that there isn’t plenty of this going around in the community, but it’s terribly destructive behavior, and the bizarre asymmetry and waste that it generates should be highly discouraged.

      In the case of someone whose work ends up on the cutting room floor, there are two different analyses that might come into play:

      If their work was a dead-end, did the work on that that dead-end contribute to identifying the true path that’s being documented? If yes, then that’s a valuable contribution to the manuscript, even if it’s “negative data”. (If on the other hand, they simply went off into the stratosphere and did something worthless that didn’t contribute because they’re an idiot, well, no, that’s not valuable to the manuscript and they shouldn’t be an author, hurt feelings or not).

      Alternatively, if the content is axed because of topicality or logistics, then the person may in fact _not_ be appropriate as an author on this particular manuscript, but it should be your (the PIs) duty to fully purse publication of that excluded work in another, more appropriate venue. It is completely irresponsible to engage someone in collaboration (or a student in project work), benefit from their investment, and then sideline the visible results (publication) of that simply because other green pastures have presented themselves today.

  10. There are so many grey areas and unanticipated circumstances related to this topic as to make hard and fast rules impossible, except that if someone made absolutely no contribution they should not be included as an author. I’ll give you a couple of real examples:

    1. On an undergraduate field course an opportunity arises to collect data that contributes significantly to a larger data set that’s been collected by the academic leading the course. Said academic does a deal with some of the students: let’s forget about what we planned to do over the next few days and instead focus on collecting data that can contribute to this interesting research question and in return you’ll be included as co-authors on the resulting paper. That’s happened to me a couple of times and it strikes me as a win-win situation.

    2. A technician has assiduously collected weather data at a site every day for over 30 years. OK, it’s part of her job, but nonetheless without those data the analyses can’t be done. It’s an important contribution and should be acknowledged as such by inclusion as an author.

    Both of these break the 2/3 and 3/5 rules but then I’ve got a very generous view on co-authorship. Is it over-generous? Perhaps so, but only if one agrees with the opening proposition to the post that:

    “The authors are ……. responsible for the work reported in the paper, and so (for instance) are the ones who get blamed if the paper turns out to be flawed and needs to be corrected or retracted.”

    In both of the above cases I (as lead author) am the one responsible for any failings. That seems fair to me since (as lead author) I’m the one who gets most of the kudos if it’s a well received study.

    Certainly times are changing with respect to authorship and practices that were common decades or centuries ago are no longer acceptable. Darwin could not have collected and processed anywhere near the number of specimens that he did on the Beagle voyage without Syms Covington’s help. Covington didn’t even get a thank you in print, though Darwin acknowledged his help personally. We shouldn’t judge him by modern standards, but would that be acceptable now?

  11. Surprised that no one linked to yet 😉

    To contribute something constructively as well: the German Science Foundation has, as I’m sure other societies do, a quite clear recommendation regarding this question:

    “Authors of an original scientific publication shall be all those, and only those, who have
    made significant contributions to the conception of studies or experiments, to the
    generation, analysis and interpretation of the data, and to preparing the manuscript, and who
    have consented to its publication, thereby assuming responsibility for it. […]

    With this definition of authorship, other contributions, including significant ones, such as
    l the responsibility for obtaining the funds for the research,
    l the contribution of important materials,
    l the training of co-authors in certain methods,
    l involvement in the collection and assembly of data,
    l directing an institution or working unit in which the publication originates,
    are not by themselves regarded sufficient to justify authorship.”

    I find that quite sensible, on top of that a (machine readable) explanation of author’s contribution seems a good idea to me, not sure whether people would report 100% honest though, but better than no reporting at all for sure..

  12. Pingback: Friday links: transparency in research, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  13. Pingback: Prioritizing manuscripts, and having data go unpublished for lack of time | Dynamic Ecology

  14. Ok, so here is one I am dealing with at present. I have a manuscript which my PhD student wrote a while back – 12 months or so ago. Shortly before it was ready for submission, one of the co-authors identified a flaw in the chronology of the site and all the data had to be re-looked at again. This was done by the PhD student, during evenings/weekends, she now works in a different field – she finished her PhD 3 years ago now. In between all of this happening, myself and my co-authors felt that the focus of the paper should be broadened – to include additional data from the student’s PhD – which I agreed I would deal with writing since we realised the PhD student would not have the time or inclination – she agreed to this arrangement. Just recently, we have discovered that we have to yet again re-do the site chronology as new C14 dates have been made available. So, I have now had to go back and re-do correlations, graphs etc. The manuscript will likely be substantively re-written and I suspect rather little will be left of the original work save the original data and some of the analyses.

    At the present time, the PhD student is the lead author, followed by myself and others. I have a fairly good suspicion that I am going to have to invest a lot of time in this paper getting this right and that I might start to consider whether I should be first author, even if its based on the primary data of the PhD student. The PhD project when originally conceived was based on a proposal I wrote and developed, but the student obviously developed it thereafter. I don’t know whether she will be particularly bothered by this as she no longer works in the field, but I do want to do what is right in terms of authorship – for her and me. Thoughts?

    • This is a good example of why just discussing general principles isn’t enough–every situation is unique!

      My own feeling would be to keep your PhD student as an author, even if most of the analyses this student did ultimately ends up “on the cutting room floor”. As to who should be first author, I’d say that depends on who ends up writing the final ms. If it’s you, as you suggest it probably will be, I’d say that you ought to be first author. But talk about it with your PhD student (which it sounds like you’re already doing–it actually sounds like you’ve done a good job keeping in touch with all concerned and making sure they’re on board with all the changes this ms has gone through).

  15. Pingback: Scientific ethics discussions in labs | Dynamic Ecology

  16. Pingback: What if coauthors disagree about what their ms should say? | Dynamic Ecology

  17. Pingback: What does it mean to be an author in the age of distributed experiments? | PLOS Blogs Network

  18. I agree with the above, and would re-iterate the “never assume” component, and if you don’t know the person well-then get it in writing.
    This may seem extreme, but I’m dealing with this at the moment, and it’s a nightmare.
    I’m based in China, where 1st author is “hallowed ground”, and co-authorship unless you are corresponding is almost meaningless.
    I’m in a collaboration with another institute, we discussed the data, I outlined two sets of analysis (i.e. two papers, based on some shared and some other data, exploring very different facets of biogeography). I started analysis for the first, outlined what I was going to do-and got no comment on the approach, but occasional ones as I sent results, finished analysis, tested and reran some components
    Then I started drafting the manuscript, and they seemed happy until I sent the draft with the authorship there….and then delay tactics began.
    We had both contributed data, then I devised methods to analysis, did the analysis, interpreted it-and wrote most of the paper (other than the method section for the data they contributed), so I assumed talking the 1st author position would be entirely obvious-but my collaborator viewed their data as more important…..and assumed she would be 1st author.
    I think the delay tactics may have been to allow her postdoc to attempt to copy my methods, and am now in a real bind-as not only does my collaborator think they should be 1st author-but they want to combine both papers-creating something un-nessessarily complex, with insufficient space for discussing results (so not a great paper, and a massive amount more work, plus I don’t have time to do the necessary analysis at present-and they still expect to be 1st author).
    Logic seems not to weigh in here, so I’ve suggested sticking to two but in the same issue of a journal (separate publication is not an option for some reason), but I’ve said I need a signed agreement if we go down that route-as sometimes it’s the only way to know where you stand, and the present scenario makes no sense…..

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