Tag Archives: coauthorship

The scientific wisdom of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache

Image: Books 5 – 9 in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, featuring Armand Gamache.

“I don’t know. I was wrong. I’m sorry”.  Lacoste recited them slowly, lifting a finger to count them off.

“I need help”, the Chief said, completing the statements.  The ones he’d taught young Agent Lacoste many years ago.  The ones he recited to all his new agents.

The Long Way Home, Louise Penny


Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, knows a lot about homicide detection.  Gamache is the protagonist of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series of crime novels.  Over 15 novels so far, Penny has portrayed the usual assortment of crimes and their solutions, but also (unusually for the genre) Gamache’s approach to managing and mentoring the earlier-career detectives assigned to his unit.  His management philosophy can be summed up as willingness to utter, whenever appropriate, the Four Statements:

    • I don’t know.
    • I was wrong.
    • I’m sorry.
    • I need help.

These work very well for Gamache in the novels.  I’ve found they work pretty well in science, too. Continue reading

It’s been a while since I’ve been this proud of a paper

I don’t usually blog about my own papers, except in some rather meta ways, but last week saw the publication of a paper I’m really, really proud of.  And it has some interesting backstory, including its conception right here on Scientist Sees Squirrel.

The paper is called “Site-selection bias and apparent population declines in long-term studies”, and it’s just come out in Conservation Biology.  It started, back in August of 2016, with a post called Why Most Studied Populations Should Decline.  That post made a very simple point about population monitoring, long-term studies, and inferences about population decline.  That point: if ecologists tend to begin long-term studies in places where their study organisms are common (and there are lots of very good reasons why they might), then we should expect long-term studies to frequently show population declines simply as a statistical artifact.  That shouldn’t be controversial – it’s just a manifestation of regression to the mean – but it’s been almost entirely unaddressed in the literature.

A bunch of folks read that blog post.  Some were mortally offended. Continue reading

What does it mean to “take responsibility for” a paper?

Image: Responsibility, by Nathan Siemers CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr.com

 I spend a lot of time talking with students and colleagues about what authorship means, and about what criteria one might use for assigning it.  That’s partly because the nature of authorship is both complex and (especially for early-career scientists) critically important.  It’s also because my research has evolved in ways that mean I rarely write a single-authored paper any more.  In fact, I rarely write a 2- or 3-authored paper any more.

There’s nothing unusual about me (in this respect); the lengths of author lists have been increasing in almost every field.  In some fields, they’ve reached startling proportions, with author lists surpassing 5,000.  It’s not universally agreed exactly what contributions merit authorship, or what responsibilities coauthors bear.  However, one thing we often hear – and I’m pretty sure, one thing I’ve said – is that each coauthor should be willing to take responsibility for the entire paper.  Continue reading

The “publication power-of-attorney”, and why you should have one

(This is a lightly edited version of a post that originally ran in January 2015. But you probably didn’t see it then.) 

Here’s a problem you might not have thought of: did you know you can submit and publish a paper with a coauthor who’s deceased, but not with one who’s in a coma and might recover?

A lot of people have never thought of this, and a lot don’t think it’s a problem worth worrying about.  Please bear with me, though, because I think it’s a more important problem than most of us realize – but also one that’s easily avoided.

The unavailable-coauthor problem is actually more general than my coma example. Continue reading

Can a thesis chapter be coauthored?

Image credit: S. Heard.  Hand models: Ken Dearborn, Allyson Heustis (thanks!).


Of course.  Most are, and that’s perfectly appropriate.  But some interesting issues arise. Continue reading

The coauthors I’ve never met

As of two weeks ago, I’ve published 76 peer-reviewed papers, and I’ve published them with 114 different coauthors.  Among those coauthors are my graduate and undergraduate students, my colleagues, my friends, my wife – and quite a few people I’ve never met. Continue reading

Does mega-authorship matter?

Image: Aad et al. 2015, Phys Rev Letters 114:191803 (short excerpt from author list)

Perhaps you’ve noticed that authorship lists are getting longer. If you haven’t, Aad et al. (2015, Phys Rev Letters 114:191803) is an interesting read – especially the last 25 pages, which are taken up by a list of its 5,154 coauthors. This is “mega-authorship”, and it’s attracted a lot of attention. Last week, even the Wall Street Journal noticed Aad et al., suggesting all kinds of reasons that mega-authorship is a problem for science. For example, the WSJ assures us, “scientists say that mass authorship makes it harder to tell who did what and who deserves the real credit for a breakthrough—or blame for misconduct”. Continue reading