Crediting Co-Authorship

“… Who worked with you”

“Didn’t you know? It was Tamwile Elar. He worked out the theory that made the device possible and I designed and build the actual instrument.”

“Does that mean he took the credit, Dr. Monay?”

“No, no. You mustn’t think that. Dr. Elar is not that kind of man. He gave me full credit for my share of the work. In fact, it was his idea to call the device by our names – both our names – but he couldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, that’s Professor Seldon’s rule, you know. All devices and equations are to be given functional names and not personal ones – to avoid resentment.”

-Forward the Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Most of my research is co-authored. As I noted in my previous post, I strongly believe that science is a collaborative enterprise. I of course have a few solo authored working papers, mainly those that I hope to include in my dissertation, but for the most part my work is with others. A problem with this is deciding how to credit the paper. Who gets the prized first author spot? Is it the most senior member of the team? The person who came up with the initial idea? The former RA who got upgraded to co-author status to avoid having to pay them? All of these can be tricky and can lead to resentment among co-authors.

I’ve seen various alternative arrangements to try to side step the issue. There are those who list co-authors by alphabetical order or alternate first authorship (Landgrave & Christensen 2015, Christensen & Landgrave 2016, etc etc). A few, like my grand advisor, combine their names with frequent co-authors (e.g. McNollgast). As cool as Christgrave sounds, I think these alternatives ultimately fall short because they continue to personalize science. It’s not clear to me what the benefit of this is. Not only does this lead to resentment among co-authors but it, I think, slows down the revision process as people mis-interpret critic on a given idea as a personal attack.

It is entirely possible, for example, to dislike JM Keynes’ work but to be indifferent or even warm towards the man himself. Likewise, it is possible to praise someone’s work, but find them to be personally awful.

Would it not be better to refer to papers by institutions or ‘labs’? Coase’s theory of the firm would, for example, be referred to as LSE 1937, as opposed to Coase 1937.

Thoughts? Comments? As always, write in the comments section!


One thought on “Crediting Co-Authorship

  1. Like you most of my pubs are co-authored. Usually not too much hassle over order of authorship. We always decided that before we started work along with a division of labor. Personally, I don’t care for substituting labs or institutions for names. Labs don’t work because not all disciplines use labs; I’m not a molecular biologist or a physicist. As for being known as one of the zillion University of Toronto, 2010? No thanks. You may not care for how promotion & tenure review works in academia, lot’s of people don’t. As it stands academic status and material rewards accrue to the person and only indirectly to the institution.

Please keep it civil

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