Authorship and Collaboration 1 Discussion

The size of the collaboration will make a difference.  Large-scale collaborations, such as high-energy physics experiments involving hundreds of people, tend to have more clearly defined procedures for deciding who will be listed as an author and in what order.  While it is useful to have a common understanding at the start of collaboration, often this understanding is not explicit at the beginning of a small-scale collaboration.  Nevertheless, the APS standard applies: all who make a meaningful contribution to the scientific work should have the opportunity to be listed as an author. 

What contribution is considered significant from a scientific perspective is not always clear, particularly when technical work is involved.  Lab technicians are generally not listed as authors if their prime responsibility it is to maintain equipment.  On the other hand, a beginning student may first do primarily similar technical tasks while getting a feel for the experiment, and it is not unusual for their name to be put on a paper for performing very similar work. 

Standards for determining the order of authorship vary widely from field to field.  In most fields, having the lead author position is considered most desirable and likewise would be indicative of having made the greatest contribution to the paper.  The lead author is often, but not always, the individual who took responsibility for writing the first draft.  However, traditions vary from field to field and collaboration-to-collaboration, so it is difficult to generalize.  If position on an authorship list is of concern to you, it may be wise to explore this issue early on in collaboration. 

Lastly, it is important to remember that being listed as an author carries responsibility, not only during the research and writing, but also after the paper has appeared in print.  If an author becomes aware of a significant problem in a paper, then that author has a responsibility to make reasonable efforts to correct the written record.

Useful Links:  See the American Physical Society Guidelines on Professional Conduct and the supplementary guidelines on Responsibilities of Coauthors and Collaborators.

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