The Authorship Dilemma: Alphabetical or Contribution?

Authors : Margareta Ackerman, Simina Brânzei

Scientific communities have adopted different conventions for ordering authors on publications.

Are these choices inconsequential, or do they have significant influence on individual authors, the quality of the projects completed, and research communities at large? What are the trade-offs of using one convention over another?

In order to investigate these questions, we formulate a basic two-player game theoretic model, which already illustrates interesting phenomena that can occur in more realistic settings.

We find that alphabetical ordering can improve research quality, while contribution-based ordering leads to a denser collaboration network and a greater number of publications.

Contrary to the assumption that free riding is a weakness of the alphabetical ordering scheme, this phenomenon can occur under any contribution scheme, and the worst case occurs under contribution-based ordering.

Finally, we show how authors working on multiple projects can cooperate to attain optimal research quality and eliminate free riding given either contribution scheme.


Ethics of using language editing services in an era of digital communication and heavily multiauthored papers

Scientists of many countries in which English is not the primary language routinely use a variety of manuscript preparation, correction or editing services, a practice that is openly endorsed by many journals and scientific institutions.

These services vary tremendously in their scope; at one end there is simple proof-reading, and at the other extreme there is in-depth and extensive peer-reviewing, proposal preparation, statistical analyses, re-writing and co-writing.

In this paper, the various types of service are reviewed, along with authorship guidelines, and the question is raised of whether the high-end services surpass most guidelines’ criteria for authorship. Three other factors are considered.

First, the ease of collaboration possible in the internet era allows multiple iterations between authors and the editing service, so essentially, papers can be co-written.

Second, ‘editing services’ often offer subject-specific experts who comment not only on the language, but interpret and improve scientific content.

Third, the trend towards heavily multi-authored papers implies that the threshold necessary to earn authorship is declining.

The inevitable conclusion is that at some point the contributions by ‘editing services’ should be deemed sufficient to warrant authorship. Trying to enforce any guidelines would likely be futile, but nevertheless, it might be time to revisit the ethics of using some of the high-end ‘editing services’.

In an increasingly international job market, recognizing this problem might prove progressively more important in authorship disputes, the allocation of research grants, and hiring decisions.”


Do age and professional rank influence the order of authorship in scientific publications? Some evidence from a micro-level perspective

Scientific authorship has important implications in science since it reflects the contribution to research of the different individual scientists and it is considered by evaluation committees in research assessment processes.

This study analyses the order of authorship in the scientific output of 1,064 permanent scientists at the Spanish CSIC (WoS, 1994–2004).

The influence of age, professional rank and bibliometric profile of scientists over the position of their names in the byline of publications is explored in three different research areas: Biology and Biomedicine, Materials Science and Natural Resources. There is a strong trend for signatures of younger researchers and those in the lower professional ranks to appear in the first position (junior signing pattern), while more veteran or highly-ranked ones, who tend to play supervisory functions in research, are proportionally more likely to sign in the last position (senior signing pattern).

Professional rank and age have an effect on authorship order in the three fields analysed, but there are inter-field differences. Authorship patterns are especially marked in the most collaboration-intensive field (i.e. Biology and Biomedicine), where professional rank seems to be more significant than age in determining the role of scientists in research as seen through their authorship patterns, while age has a more significant effect in the least collaboration-intensive field (Natural Resources).