Tag Archives: coauthorship

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

“Encouraging” solo authorship would be a really bad idea

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

I just read an intriguing opinion piece, Garsten et al’s (2015) “Single authors: an exterminated race”, which argues that “the scientific community could benefit from encouraging solo authors”. By all means read the piece (it’s a short and easy read); you may agree. I don’t, and here’s why.

Garsten et al. begin with the familiar observation that the fraction of solo-authored academic papers has been declining for a long time, especially in the natural sciences. (I’m certainly no exception: in the last dozen years I’ve published just two solo-authored papers, and I don’t see many more on the horizon.) For multiply-authored papers, the average number of authors has been rising too (sometimes to silly extremes, with hundreds or thousands of authors*). There are many reasons for this, as Garsten et al. correctly point out, including increasing complexity of scientific work and (less admirably) author-list inflation arising from our metric-obsessed attempts to measure researcher quality through publication counts.

So far, not much to argue with. But things get interesting when Garsten et al. move from description to prescription, arguing that solo-authored papers are superior to multiply-authored ones**. Continue reading

Story behind the paper: Integrating phylogenetic community structure with species distribution models

(Crossposted with edits from the Ecography Blog; original post July 8, 2014)

In July 2014, we (my collaborator Jeremy Lundholm, our joint PhD student Oluwatobe “Tobi” Oke, and I) published a paper in Ecography: “Integrating phylogenetic community structure with species distribution models: an example with plants of rock barrens”.  (And kudos to Holly Abbandonato for 1st-rate field help).  I wrote the following “story behind the paper” for Ecography’s blog. I like reading this kind of thing, so you’ll probably see more on the blog in future.

Our paper combines approaches from phylogenetic community ecology and species distribution modeling to understand the assembly of plant communities on rock barrens.  It was enormous fun to be involved with the work, in part because before we started I knew nothing about SDMs and next to nothing about rock barrens.  That we ended up with what I think is a pretty good paper is a testament to the value of collaboration and coauthorship. Continue reading