Scientific authorship has been increasingly complemented with contributorship statements. While such statements are said to ensure more equitable credit and responsibility attribution, they also provide an opportunity to examine the roles and functions that authors play in the construction of knowledge and the relationship between these roles and authorship order.
Drawing on a comprehensive and multidisciplinary dataset of 87,002 documents in which contributorship statements are found, this paper examines the forms that division of labor takes across disciplines, the relationships between various types of contributions, as well as the relationships between the contribution types and various indicators of authors’ seniority.
It shows that scientific work is more highly divided in medical disciplines than in mathematics, physics and disciplines of the social sciences, and that, with the exception of medicine, the writing of the paper is the task most often associated with authorship.
The results suggest a clear distinction between contributions that could be labelled as ‘technical’ and those that could be considered ‘conceptual’: While conceptual tasks are typically associated with authors with higher seniority, technical tasks are more often performed by younger scholars.
Finally, results provide evidence of a u-shaped relationship between extent of contribution and author order: In all disciplines, first and last authors typically contribute to more tasks than middle authors.
The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the results for the reward system of science.