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Re: Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications

Posted by pbio on 07 May 2009 at 22:15 GMT

Author: Mikhail Spivakov
Position: Research Fellow
Institution: MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, London UK
Submitted Date: February 05, 2007
Published Date: February 6, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

The problem of authors' contribution in multiauthored papers is currently very relevant and the authors are completely right that none of the current strategies (or more precisely, the current absense of any well-defined one) are able to properly address it. However, I am not sure whether approaches suggested by the authors can resolve the complexity of the subject.

I think the most controversial assumption that the authors make is that the problem lies mainly in representing a "true" contribution of an author on the list. I would argue, however, that the main problem is not that of representation, but that of "dimensionality": i.e., how to map contributions of different kind onto a single "linear" scale of an authors' list.

Indeed, long authors' lists usually result from research efforts with a relatively strong division of labour. Researchers work more and more as complex multi-level teams, with conceptual, technical and managerial aspects of the work often segregated between different people. From this perspective, the process of modern research often resembles another highly-technological and labour-consuming art: that of film-making.

Can you imagine what would happen if all film credits had to be 'ordered' into a single linear authors' list?
How would it be decided, for example, who is to go last, a producer or a director? Or should a lead actor be an equal-contribution first author with a cameraman? Or should a costume designer put up with always being lost somewhere in the middle of the list - or sometimes (e.g., in period movies) they deserve to be first? However ridiculous these 'dilemmas' may seem, they are very similar to what large research teams often have to deal with.

In my view, the only way forward would be to abandon linear authors' lists in favour of more complex "credits" split into specific sections. What headings should these sections have is open to question, but to start with, the current conventions for "Authors contributions" would probably do, such as "designing research", "performing research", "analysing data", "contributing technologies", "co-ordinating the work" etc.

Of course, this approach is not flawless either - for example, junior authors performing most of the work (who are now usually first authors on linear authors' lists) may be potentially deprived positions in "more prestigious" sections such as "research design".
However, I suppose that the principal idea of a "multi-dimensional" authors' list still deserves a careful consideration by the community.

No competing interests declared.

RE: Re: Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications

phrygos replied to pbio on 21 Jul 2011 at 10:05 GMT

I strongly agree to this suggestion - multidimensional author lists similar to the "credits" section in film-making would probably be the best solution for everyone. Are there any known attempts to try this out in practice?

In the end, it´s an article´s title that should be the focus of interest in any publication list. The author sequence itself is emphasized far too much.

No competing interests declared.