To freshwater ecologists, the PEG model paper is a foundational paper (current citations: 1064) that lays out a model of seasonal succession in the plankton. It starts out with a verbal model comprised of 24 statements/stages; for example, the first is “Towards the end of winter, nutrient availability and increased light permit unlimited growth of the phytoplankton”. It then goes on to compare data on seasonal succession from 23 lakes around the world, comparing these with what the PEG model predicted. The paper has four authors: Ulrich Sommer, Z. Maciej Gliwicz, Winfried Lampert, and Annie Duncan*.
As you can see, a LOT of people were involved in contributing data and ideas to the manuscript. I count 29 people in the footnote. Table 1 lists data contributions; in there, I see 25 names, only two of whom are authors on the paper.**
Reading this paper again recently, I was struck by how different this is from the way authorship works for working group papers now. (Given that I’ve never been part of a working group, it’s possible I’m off base here, but I’m pretty confident that things work differently now.***) My guess is that, if this paper appeared today, it would have many, many more authors. Here are Jeremy’s general guidelines for authorship:
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.
By those criteria (which I agree are reasonable and commonly used), the PEG paper would have 6 times as many authors. Part of what was so interesting to me when I realized this is that the PEG paper isn’t that old – it appeared in 1986.****
Was the PEG paper exceptional for its time in having so few coauthors, given the size of the working group and the number of people who contributed data? (Were there other working groups of this size at that time? I don’t know, but that likely reflects my ignorance.) Or has there been a shift towards including more people as coauthors?
My sense is that it’s the latter. I don’t know anything about the workings of the Plankton Ecology Group other than what the paper indicates, but, in my opinion, today it would be appropriate for the other people who contributed to the conceptual framework and contributed data to be coauthors. If that means there has been a shift towards including more people as coauthors, I think that’s a good thing.
Do you know of other similar examples? Certainly there are lots of examples of current papers with lots of coauthors. What I’m unsure of is how many older papers there are from working groups, and whether they had similarly few authors. If you know of some, please mention them in the comments!
*The full reference for the PEG paper is:
Sommer, U., Z. M. Gliwicz, W. Lampter, and A. Duncan. 1986. The PEG-model of seasonal succession of planktonic events in fresh waters. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 106(4): 433-471.
** People who contributed data, according to Table 1 (underline indicates author on paper): Bangerter, Fott, Frankhauser, Garnier, Geller, Gliwicz, Gulati, Hart, Herzig, Hofmann, Horn, Lair, Langeland, Larsson, Lescher-Moutoué, Moreau-Wattiez, Okamoto, Pechlaner, Rostan, Rott, Ruttner-Kolisko, Schober, Sommer, Spodniewska, Vijverberg
*** This post by Florian Hartig points out that author lists for working groups have gotten so big in some cases that authors accidentally get left off the publication.
**** I suppose someone could argue that 30 years is really old, but, since I was alive when the paper came out, I maintain that it’s not old.😉