Co-First Authorship

Dec 22 2008 Published by under Conduct of Science

Co-first authorship is a sham, and only serves as a political compromise to placate non-first authors. Grant/fellowship peer reviewers and hiring or promotion/tenure committees understand this, and therefore give little additional weight to the designation as co-first author of a second or third author. In addition, the designation co-first authors does not take any weight whatsoever away from the first authorship of the first-listed author. I will leave it to our readers to figure out why this remains the case even if there is a footnote stating that the co-first authors are listed in alphabetical order. (Just to be clear, this pertains to the biomedical sciences; co-first authorship may have a different significance in other disciplines.)
UPDATE: Check this shit out!
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/322/5909/1865
The second and third authors are asterisked as "equal contributors"! What a motherfucking joke. The only people in the entire world who could possibly give a shit about that are their parents. HAHAHAHAHAH!

108 responses so far

  • yep says:

    lol. so true.

  • TreeFish says:

    I disagree, CPP. In my field, there are often people who are brilliant experimentalists who are great with their hands; there are also people who are brilliant theoreticians/mathematicians who, quite frankly, think experiments are icky, gross, and take too long. I am close to many people of both categories, and have been lucky enough to participate in collaborative projects that require both. These studies have so far been published in high-impact journals because the insight from the experiments have been given a functional context by the computational models.
    I couldn't derive a series of differential equations, simulate the effects of variable densities of sodium channels on axonal action potential threshold, or estimate the number of neurons required to fire simultaneously to make a column if you promised me a bacon cheeseburger and a 4-pack of Guinness Draught cans. What I can do, however, is experimentalize. And vice versa goes with the brilliant math-peeps with whom I collaborate (though some are bad-ass enough to be great at both). Such synergy runs long and deep in neuroscience (e.g., Hodgkin and Huxley; Sakmann and Neher); I think if there is a major finding that combines the two with appropriate synergy, dual first-authorship is appropriate.
    In the situations where the contributions are tough to discern (all experimental), a savvy reader can usually infer who did what (e.g., behavior, genetics, and Westerns done by Author A, physiology done by Author B). Still, if one is serially involved in shared-authorship papers, I agree with your tenor that little weight will be given.
    Sometimes, this also happens to senior authors! For example, BigWig A is the last author, but only because BigWig A is older/more senior than BigWig B, NOT because their contribution was more significant. The study section members who infer meaning from that are either (1) ignorant of the significance and approach of the paper; (2) petty; or (3) both. For example, should Malenka and Bredt not get credit for their discoveries because they collaborated with Roger Nicoll when all were professors? What about Siegelbaum and Kandel? Silva and Tonegawa? Malinow and LeDoux? Bear and Singer?
    On the whole, maybe you're right, CPP. But, there are clearly numerous exceptions...

  • whimple says:

    The senior author argument is irrelevant, since everyone who counts in the field already knows who these people are and what they are about. This isn't true for the first author(s). PP is totally correct that second author is the second author and all the little superscripted asterisks in the world will never change that.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Remember the exception to this rule is two author papers. To me those are pretty much ephen-stephen....
    Although I looove using the co-first author rigamarole. People still fall for it.
    Dr F.
    P.S.: I would prefer to clarify authorships like this*
    *This author was a total tool, and had nothing to do with this manuscript except changing the cell culture media one sunday and then begged for their name to get on here.

  • Alex says:

    I'm preparing a 2-author paper and struggling over order: I'm the professor and I did most of the work, but an undergraduate has done a few essential calculations. The person who actually did the work goes first in my field, and the senior person who supervised it goes last. When those people are one and the same....?

  • Alex says:

    EDIT: "The person who actually did most of the work..."

  • Beaker says:

    When a co-first authors situation develops, the fault almost always lies with the senior PI or PIs. My goal as a newish lab head is to never allow such a situation to develop. Each person has their project on which they will obviously be first author when we publish. Others in the lab, or in collaborating labs, are told that they will be "middle authors" when they agree to collaborate. Co-PI controversies tend to develop when the senior PI has everybody in the lab working on some kind of Magnum Opus discovery. Such situations are bad for the lab mojo (since only the senior PI ends up with full credit for the big discovery), while trainees end up fighting each other for credit. It's also a poor research strategy to have all the lab's eggs in one basket.
    Treefish notes important exceptions when my simple scheme is insufficient. I'll worry about that when I start collaborating with Malenka, Bredt, and Nicoll...
    Niggling about co-authorship is getting out of hand. I've seen a paper with co-first, co-second, and co-last authors: asterisks, daggers, and double-daggers--just to assign co-authorships. This is a sad state of affairs--petty bean counting.
    Speaking of bean counting, a colleague and I were discussing an applicant for a faculty position. I noted that the applicant was (only) a third author on their highest impact paper. My colleague said, "not even third, it was fourth!" Does anybody care at that point? In my book there is first, middle, and last. Second is no better or worse than third, fourth, etc. If anybody disagrees, I'd love to hear why.

  • neurolover says:

    "The person who actually did the work goes first in my field, and the senior person who supervised it goes last."
    If you're starting out your lab, and are the "senior person" but, only newly so, I think it benefits you more to have your name last, identifying you as the senior person, even if you did most of the work.
    I've found one instance where the co-first author status was actually given credance: applications for the Human Frontiers Fellowships, in which folks are required to have evidence of scholarship in the form of first author papers. They state that co-first authorship qualifies to get you in the door. (I'm guessing that it would still not count as much when the app actually gets evaluated).
    The other situation in which it might actually be noticed is if the division of labor between the two "first" authors is clear -- i.e. the theoretician & the physiologist, or the physiologist & the molecular biologist. Of course, the order is going to be interpreted to mean that one of those things is more substantive for the manuscript than the other, but at least it's clear that the 2nd first author did all the experimental work (which might matter if they're being hired later to do experimental work).

  • sucheta Tripathy says:

    I don't agree to the bloggers view that co-first authors are a sham.. Right now we are drafting a sequencing paper that has a large number of components where it is impossible for one first author to contribute most part of the work. Most of the computational stuff are divided between 2 people who conduct most of the work and rest are contributed by myriad of other authors. In this case the 2 first authors are the real first authors.

  • Well, I have been involved in a diversity of approaches to first authorship. I have been on papers where a group is listed as the author "e.g., the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative" and I have been the second author on a supposed "co-first" author paper and senior author on some co-first author ones too. And in general I agree, mostly the second co-first author gets ignored. There are exceptions - I have been in hiring and promotion meetings where people get some props for the second author position on such papers, but it is rare. The only way I think this can work is if there is some formal recognition of splitting first authors in the publication record. This cannot be that hard. I mean, nobody asks who is the first person listed on the nobel prize right?

  • This is largely field-dependent, but in the biosciences the bottom line is that the first and last names listed get the most credit and anything in between are mere contributors, regardless of whether asterisks and/or footnote indicate otherwise.
    Also, a lot of commenters have indicated that first authors are the ones that did all or most of the work ... this brings up the issue of whether the quantity of work that one contributes to a paper is more important than intellectual input. If someone has "done a lot of work" in a study that shouldn't necessarily guarantee (co-)first authorship, particularly if that person hasn't made any contributions to the scope, direction, interpretation or even writing of the manuscript.

  • DSKS says:

    "The other situation in which it might actually be noticed is if the division of labor between the two "first" authors is clear"
    Even here, though, I think there is the assumption that regardless of the shared manual labour, there are still generally only two people principally involved in the direction of a given project: the lead author and the senior author/PI. If I see the value of some theoretical modeling for a project I'm working on, and I take the initiative to actively seek a collaboration, then regardless of my rickety calculus or the amount of work volunteered by my collaborator, I am still sitting in the director's seat in terms of facilitating the progress of that particular research project (albeit under the overall guidance of The Producer, represented by the lab PI). In such cases when manual labour is fairly equal, I think what separates the First Author from a Middle Author should come down to precisely who was "leading" whom in the collaboration. Perhaps there are genuine cases where the leadership role really is equally split between two colleagues who just happen to get on so famously, and are of such like minds, that they can do that, but I bet those exceptions are far rarer than the number of joint lead authorship papers coming out.
    Given the importance of postdocs presenting themselves as future leaders, I can see a good argument for trying to avoid projects in which that important leadership role is ambiguously allocated. I wonder that when first authorship is shared, this may result in the perceived role of "project leader" to default entirely (rather than partly) to the PI; perhaps indicating, for eample, that the project is "some kind of Magnum Opus discovery"(- Beaker) in which the workers have made a limited intellectual contribution in terms of rationale and experimental design. That might be disadvantageous for first author postdocs, who risk being perceived as nowt but the hired help at a time when they need to be exerting their independence.

  • ESC says:

    I agree with this comment, and as the paper will always be refered to as "(first author) et al" or as "(first author)'s paper" in conversation, the second co-author completely loses recognition.
    I was recently on the winning side on things with this. As a new-ish PHD student, my project began where a former MSc student in the lab had left off. He had a job offer waiting and finished quickly before he had enough to publish. My first year was basically finishing of the work for the paper. 3 of the 4 figures were produced by me but all based directly on the work of former student (who created the model, designed the assay, etc.). Anyway, I'm ending up as first co-author which may or may not be fair. I think the fact that former student is no longer in the lab, or in acedemia, was what caused my PI to give me first author status.

  • qaz says:

    DM - I'm surprised by this post. I have sat in many a faculty hiring meeting where co-first author counts just fine. "Person A is first author on five papers from their post-doc." "I only see four." "Paper three is co-first author." "Oh. OK, I see." And on our little CV-sheets that we look at while the committee is reporting, those co-first author asterisks are still there. Maybe that's just my department.
    If there were a long-term collaboration, where co-first authors kept coming up, I would I would hope that co-first authors would alternate order to give each of them a chance to do "A et al." "B et al."
    Of course, don't forget that all of this is very field-dependent. And depends greatly on the biomedical sciences arcane system of trying to communicate all of the subtleties of authorship through subtle changes in authorship order.

  • Brent Cochran says:

    This is not quite correct. I have been on fellowship and job search committees where second listed co-first authors are given equal weight to listed first authors or solo first authors. Faculty on these committees often insist on this for precisely the reason that otherwise being a co-first author has no real meaning. While I won't claim that this attitude is universal as yet, I do believe it is gaining ground. This should be supported since it both solves intra-lab conflicts and encourages cooperation. Moreover, it will often happen that there is no rational way of determining who should be the first author of a given paper.

  • Nat says:

    Dr. Feelgood said:
    Although I looove using the co-first author rigamarole. People still fall for it.
    Yeah, that's great. It really is something to be proud of when you can pull something over on a person who could never have sufficient information to understand that what you suggest will in fact harm them later.
    And yes, I do have a paper where I am a second listed co-first author. Now, I'm not despairing that my contribution to this work is possibly debased in the eyes of many others. I likely would have contributed anyway. But it might have changed how much effort I added.
    But if PP's assertion is actually widely true, then at least he's trying to inform people as to that fact.

  • juniorprof says:

    This sort of crap only exists because we let it. We are the ones doing the hiring, reviewing and tenure judging. Failing to consider second or third co-first authorship contributions with excessive favor to the first co-author is emblematic of intellectual laziness, pure and simple. Moreover, failing to recognize that middle authors make significant contributions on increasing multidisciplinary manuscripts is petty bullshit. We need to reconsider our priorities.

  • James F says:

    To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being co-first author is not being co-first author.

  • There are definitely problems with basing the allocation of scientific credit on authorship position, particularly in the case of highly collaborative interdisciplinary science and "big science". But co-first authorship is a totally shitty workaround for these more fundamental problems. I thus disagree strenuously with those who assert that it should be given more weight and respect, as all this does is provide a crutch for a system of credit allocation that needs more fundamental revamping.

  • mp2 says:

    I think authorship in the biomedical sciences has become almost completely meaningless. Taken from a website at Washington University (where all 3 are to be met)
    "Authorship should be restricted to those individuals who have met each of three criteria: (a) made a significant contribution to the conception and design or the analysis and interpretation of data or other scholarly effort, (b) participated in drafting the article or reviewing and/or revising it for content, and (c) approved the final version of the manuscript."
    And it is considered academic misconduct to give authorship to those who do not meet the criteria above.
    being at an early stage of my career, i have seen so many authors get added for trivial reasons such as providing clinical cases with no intellectual input, or simply because they work in the lab too. one of my own projects got diluted as a result of this. i did all the work under the direction of my PI and should have had a two author paper, instead two names got added and i feel like my contribution has been diltued: it looks like that I did not do all the work, the wet bench work, the statistics, and the bioinformatics and computational biology.
    Often people think they deserve publication simply because they did the technical component of the work. I disagree, and as mentioned above, neither does the washington university definition mention technical work. An authors needs to be SIGNIFICANT in the DESIGN, ANALYSIS, or INTERPRETATION or other scholary effort. If you could get the data by contracting with anyone, I dont think it deserves publication credit. As an example, i know of someone who is first author on a nature paper, but i but to this day she still doesn't completly understand what she did. Without the genius of the PI designing the experiments and telling her what to do, the paper wouldn't exist. Although she did most of the work, i question whether she had enough intellectual contribution to demand any authorship (she probably did, but she got first author); the PI could have been the only author.
    My point behind all this is that in the end, more and more people know who does what in a paper, regardless of what the authorship looks like. People in these fields know each other, and who made the actual intellectual contributions are known (most of the time). It is nice to see papers spell out contributions more often; however, if would be even nicer if they reject people for authorship, or revise them based on the contributions such as deleting people who only contribute cases, and realizing co-first author doesnt apply when author 1 was involved in design, execution, analysis, interpreting and writing manuscript and author 2 only was execution (i have seen papers that have co-first authors, where it is obvious they were not equal in the summary of author contributions)
    I think co-first authorship is ok. A paper is more than one experiment, and often two very strong contributions are needed. I am co-first author when the first author did the design and all the data generation, and then i took all the data interpreted it, analysed it, and then wrote the paper. I needed him to do the experiments, and he needed me to do the stats. I was actually fine with just second author in this case, but the PI suggested co-first.
    Which also brings me to my next point, I am only on the paper to pad my CV. Quantity seems to be dominating over quality. I heard someone say (in a clinical department) that you need your name on 35 articles and have 12 first or last author to get tenure (within 6 years), which is leading this department to put out a lot of small poor quality papers, and i ask, if one author had 6 landmark CELL papers and no others, would he be denied tenure.

  • i did all the work under the direction of my PI and should have had a two author paper, instead two names got added and i feel like my contribution has been diltued: it looks like that I did not do all the work, the wet bench work, the statistics, and the bioinformatics and computational biology.

    If you were the first author, then the addition of more authors between you and the senior author doesn't dilute your credit at all.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    CPP, how close is the system to being fundamentally revamped? If it isn't close (and I really don't know), how many people are you willing to hobble to make it look bad enough to be fixed?

  • okham says:

    I have had for a long time the impression that in my field (physics) author order is irrelevant. I think that for the most part readers will make up their own mind, based on the seniority of the authors, as to who did what. And I think that in most cases they will be right.
    For example, in the simple (but common) case of a paper in which the authors are a graduate student, a postdoc and a PI, I think that most people will assume that the bulk of the work was done by the graduate student under the direct supervision of the postdoc, and that there were regular meetings with the PI, who may have originated the idea, provided valuable input, contributed significantly to the writing of the manuscript and fought tooth and nail with referees (simply paying salaries is not enough to warrant authorship, in my opinion -- that is what acknowledgments are for).
    If things go like that, what difference does it make who is first, second or third ?
    The graduate student and the postdoc will in all likelihood not be in competition for the same job, and in any case PIs can describe in details relative contributions in their letters of recommendation anyway.
    I think that people make way too much of order. The real problem is with names that do not belong in the author list, in any order.

  • Nat says:

    okham: That's a good system, and perhaps it works in physics, but the scale of things in biomedicine, and the need to evaluate people in some ways distant from our subfield, make this unworkable in practice.
    I'm interested in PP's (and others') views for how to revamp the system. This is a critically important exercise considering that our intellectual contributions (as reflected by publishing output) are the currency with which we buy rewards (jobs, grants). As such, it has a huge impact on how science is conducted and the results it creates.

  • Alex says:

    In theoretical physics a high premium is put on single-author papers (or two-author papers for those whose PIs insist on it), since these papers are seen as demonstrating the most independence. Say what you will about whether that's an accurate measure of independence, but that's the perception by many people. Getting a single-author theory paper into a letters journal (or the letters section of a journal) is similar to getting a C/N/S paper in biomedical research.
    As a postdoc, I had a very political PI who would insist on putting quite a few people on the paper for all sorts of reasons, and if I say more than that I might get myself in trouble. Once I started a faculty position, I made a point of getting out a single-author theory paper into a letters section very quickly (the gold standard for theorists), even before a paper with an undergrad co-author (the gold standard for undergrad institutions). I got that paper accepted right before the application deadline for a certain fellowship targeted at young theorists at undergraduate institutions, and shortly thereafter I got the fellowship.

  • blatnoi says:

    The solution is obvious. Just put a running list of authors in the margins of a title page until it forms a square that merges with itself. Thus, no one and everyone is first author. I can't believe all the 'smart' scientists here, and no one except for me thought of it. Pshaw.

  • Dave says:

    In my experience, the author listed second on a co-first authored paper gets as much credit as the person listed first. I have even seen the first and second authors' name order changed (second-listed author lists his/her name first on his/her CV, for example), and am fine with that. Of course, co-first authorship doesn't count as much as single first authorship, but that seems fair.
    Many journals request/allow authorship clarifications in the acknowledgements. We can all take advantage of this when necessary.

  • I have even seen the first and second authors' name order changed (second-listed author lists his/her name first on his/her CV, for example), and am fine with that.

    I am not fine with that at all! It is falsification of a CV, and I strenuously urge our readers to never, ever, ever succumb to the temptation to do so!

  • inaline says:

    See, if CPP was wrong, then people who were 2nd co-first authored would not bother to switch the fucking order of the names on his/her own CV.

  • okham says:

    Nat, I see what you are saying but what I don't understand is the following: at some point, someone will be requested to write letter(s) of recommendation, and that person will be the PI -- not the postdoc(s), nor the graduate student(s). In their letters, PI will be able to say things that can render any author list of any paper irrelevant -- that is my experience anyway, I have seen it happen. This is why I wonder whether author list is worth getting all worked up like this...

  • This is why I wonder whether author list is worth getting all worked up like this...

    It sure as shit is! Because no one is going to ask for and/or look at letters of reference unless the publication record meets some threshold. And what holds almost all the weight in meeting that threshold is the number and quality of genuine first-author publications.

  • Dave says:

    CPP is basically saying that A does NOT equal B, despite the fact that the authors have explicitly said that A equals B.
    And here we have the root of the problem -- 'evaluators' who make up their own mind about author contributions despite what the authors say those contributions are. If the freaking papers says 'These two people contributed equally', then I don't understand why we can't take them at their word.
    As long as co-first authorship is properly noted on the CV, there should be no problem. I bigger misconduct, and one I have seen quite commonly, is when an author listed first on a co-first author paper fails to clearly note the joint first-authorship.

  • jc says:

    It looks to me like the 2nd and 3rd authors of the paper are duking it out for 2nd. There's no asterisk by the 1st author. So, I don't think the paper updated above is about co-first authorship... it's about co-second authorship. (insert hysterical laughing)

  • So, I don't think the paper updated above is about co-first authorship... it's about co-second authorship. (insert hysterical laughing)

    Yeah. That was my point.

  • okham says:

    It sure as shit is! Because no one is going to ask for and/or look at letters of reference unless the publication record meets some threshold. And what holds almost all the weight in meeting that threshold is the number and quality of genuine first-author publications.
    Wow... this seems a bit drastic, though. Look, if you say it is so, then I am sure that that's how it is but.. Then I have to ask: what's the point of including anyone on the author list other than first and last authors ? What benefit do all the others derive ?

  • Then I have to ask: what's the point of including anyone on the author list other than first and last authors ? What benefit do all the others derive ?

    I said "almost". The others derive a cumulative benefit of papers on their CV, and they also derive the benefit of demonstrating that they can work collaboratively with others. But from the standpoint of assessing post-docs for tenure-track (or equivalent) junior faculty positions in research universities, first authorships are key. Eleventeen fucktillion middle authorships or second-listed co-first authorships in Cell, Science, and Nature cannot substitute for first authorships in quality journals. Regardless of whether anyone likes this, it is simply the way things currently are. (Yeah, I know: Comrade PhysioProf is an apologist for the evil fucked-up system. Whatevs.)
    Regardless, even if they didn't benefit at all, why do you assume that the only reason for listing an author is for the benefit of that author? The primary purpose of listing authors on a scientific paper is to document the fact of who participated in its genesis.

  • Maybe we should do what the film/tv people do and list everyone that had ever touched some element of the experiment as well as their specific roles ...
    1st author: postdoc; did what he/she was told by PI, wrote terrible first draft of manuscript
    Co-1st author: grad student; did most of the grunt work, treated like shit by postdoc
    2nd, 3rd & 4th authors: other lab members; weren't even aware the study was being done but are happy their cvs are being padded
    5th author: undergrad summer student; left before the study began but needs a publication to apply to medical school
    6th author: tech; did all of the lab work, supervised and corrected the work of authors 1-5, edited the manuscript and let two co-1st authors pass it off as their own work
    7th author: big wig collaborator; PI is desperately kissing ass to Big Wig and thinks that a handshake at last year's annual meeting is worthy of co-authorship
    Senior author: PI; provided money, lab, intellectual guidance
    Problem solved.

  • Eleventeen fucktillion middle authorships or second-listed co-first authorships in Cell, Science, and Nature cannot substitute for first authorships in quality journals.
    Oh, and yes, I agree. A cv full of nothing but middle-authorships screams "I'm good at working with/for other people" whereas first author publications more confidentally state "I am capable of directing and writing a novel scientific study".

  • see_above says:

    PiT, that reminds me of this comic.

  • JD says:

    "I am not fine with that at all! It is falsification of a CV, and I strenuously urge our readers to never, ever, ever succumb to the temptation to do so!"
    That was my instinct as well. I am a co-first on a nice paper but I would never dare switch the order on my CV. I would consider it misleading (at best) and would be sympathetic to concerns that it looked like fraud.
    I think that giving proper credit is very complicated and it is worse in areas like medicine where we have very large pools of co-authors to manage. This makes us want to mark out (somehow) very constructive people who put in a lot of work.

  • PiT, that reminds me of this comic.
    Haha - awesome. I hadn't seen that one.

  • okham says:

    why do you assume that the only reason for listing an author is for the benefit of that author?
    I don't assume anything -- it's just that if including the names of authors who may have contributed but were not the main players, not-first-authorship-worthy or what have you, may create confusion and ambiguity, and risks depriving people of their deserved recognition, then maybe it's best to think of another way to reward those whose contribution is not fundamental.
    Also, the idea that, say, two postdocs from the same group apply for the same job and the one who has more first authored papers gets invited for an interview seems again, a bit drastic. Does it really work that way ? In my field, typically the PI gets a phone call and is asked to tell which one of the two should be interviewed...

  • Also, the idea that, say, two postdocs from the same group apply for the same job and the one who has more first authored papers gets invited for an interview seems again, a bit drastic. Does it really work that way?

    Dude, who said it works this way? There is some minimum threshold level--involving quantity and quality--of first-author productivity that must be reached to get serious consideration for a tenure-track position. Obviously, that threshold is different in different institutions/departments. If you don't meet that threshold, you are simply not a serious candidate. Those that meet the threshold are then scrutinized more closely, with consideration given to their publication productivity, their ability to compete for fellowships, their letters of reference, and their research plan. The outcome of all this could be two post-docs from the same lab interviewing for the same position: I have seen it happen.

  • okham says:

    If you don't meet that threshold, you are simply not a serious candidate.
    Well, my point is simply that if being a serious candidate means first and foremost a few specific things (e.g., one or two first-authored articles published in high-profile journals and receiving many citations), and having many publications where one is neither first or last author is not one of them, then maybe there is no need to include the person's name in all of them. Maybe the person's "ability to work in a team" is something that PIs can belabor upon in their letters.
    As an aside, in experimental high energy physics, where collaborations easily include hundreds of researchers, increasingly I see manuscripts submitted to the archives where the authorship line simply reads: So-and-so on behalf of the XYZ collaboration. My impression is that people are now rewarded primarily through an internal scheme of promotions, not unlike that of industry.

  • Guess I'm not the only one who found this assertion interesting/controversial.
    It's a problem that so many commenters, even ones within a certain biomedical field, have different viewpoints on this fairly basic issue. As though authorship fights couldn't get nastier, any trainee who hears that second joint-firstness is no better than plain second place is going to throw a fit about the precise author order.
    More journals should take the Nature tactic of having an "author contribution" section to clarify. Of course, those are all political too, but at least it lets a reader get the gist of the situation.
    Re the CV, the only acceptable thing for a second co-first author to do is to mark on the CV the asterisks that also exist in the publication to indicate joint-firstness. Not switching the order, for sure.

  • TreeFish says:

    Self disclosure: I have 17 first-author papers, some in Natty Neuroski, some in J Neuroski, and some in Neuron. None of them has a shared first authorship. But, I am currently working with some peeps that seriously deserve some fuckin-ass-first-author-co-credit........and I am letting them put their name first. I trained them. I guided the research. I designed the experiments...but they came up with the question. Suck it if you don't like it. We'll show you in the long run.
    I have never shared first authorship, yet I think it's bullshit that there are peeps out there that have this 20th century view that CPP has that it means nothing. CPP is showing his/her britches. Uh oh!!!!! Even JuniorProf disagrees with him/her.
    That said, to all you readers, I (even though he comes off as a misogynist wanker) agree with Dave...if the authors fucking say that they contributed equally, why would we believe a jerk-off that says it doesn't matter? I couldn't care less what CPP says...I've been at the same parties he/she has been at, and he/she certainly doesn't speak the Gospel. Should we listen to him/her? Hell/fuck/shit/damn yes.
    But even Eccles was wrong (just ask Henry Dale..or Llinas). Co-first authorships DO mean something. Go prove it to those cocksuckers that don't think it does....
    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy-ass New Year.
    Love,
    TreeFish

  • Dave says:

    I think a key point often overlooked is that authorship is not just 'credit', it is also RESPONSIBILITY. In my lab, I make it clear that authorship indicates responsibility for something. Every author must be able to point to something in the paper and say: 'This is my contribution. I take responsibility for it.' If that contribution turns out to have been screwed up or is unreproducible for any reason*, the responsible person's ass is on the line.
    [*By 'any reason', I really mean any reason. I don't care how good someone is; if they can't document their procedures in a way that allows easy reproducibility, then they might as well have made the crap up.]
    I think most discontent arises when authors expect to be rewarded for effort over results. A PI has to make it clear that effort doesn't count. You can't publish effort. You gotta have results -- something in the paper. I don't care how hard you worked at something; if there is not something you can point to in the paper and say 'That's mine', then you get no authorship. Authorship in my lab is always decided when the paper is submitted, and not before, based solely on the contents of the paper. And nothing is final. The author list often changes after revisions.
    That said, I agree that a good PI tries to organize things so authorship surprises don't occur. That means giving the first author first crack at getting stuff done, etc.

  • randy says:

    yes, but there is good reason for co first authors in many cases, but no use for co 2nd 3rd or latter authors.

  • More journals should take the Nature tactic of having an "author contribution" section to clarify. Of course, those are all political too, but at least it lets a reader get the gist of the situation.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! You think anyone other than undergrads and first-year grad students are stupid enough to read that crap?
    Treefish, you been drinkin' some motherfucking eggnog tonight?

  • TreeFish says:

    Yoooooooo betcha! Merry Christmas, ya bastard!!!!!

  • HAHAHAHAHAHAH! That shit's gonna give you a screeeeeeeeming hangover. Merry Christmas, asshole!

  • Search committee chair says:

    I have chaired search committees leading to the hiring of four junior faculty over the last two years. At my institution, we do actually pay attention to that little asterisk, as it is part of the answer to the real question we are interested in: How much potential does this candidate have to conduct an independent research program?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    For all y'all who think second with symbol is meaningful, how would you rate a candidate with eight second author pubs, six with co-auth symbol? Against someone with five firsts and three seconds, unsymboled on all cases? Be honest now....

  • JD says:

    "For all y'all who think second with symbol is meaningful, how would you rate a candidate with eight second author pubs, six with co-auth symbol? Against someone with five firsts and three seconds, unsymboled on all cases? Be honest now...."
    When I do a first author count (even of myself), I assume that the total number of first authorships should not increase due to a co-first. So I'd rate them as 1/2.
    So I would rate both candidates as having 8 papers, one with 3 first (i.e. 6 co-first) and the other with 5.
    So, yeah, it's better to not split but it's not meaningless. I dunno what I'd think if they were all co-first; that'd suggest something was wrong in the research environment in most cases or else it'd be mixed up a bit more than that.

  • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! You think anyone other than undergrads and first-year grad students are stupid enough to read that crap?
    I would think a hiring committee member who wants to know what's up with the six joint-first authorships or whatever certainly might read these....Actually I love reading them because they're such culture-of-science material. "Dr Next-To-Last contributed valuable reagents" IE had no intellectual contribution to the study but is on it because of her virus/transgenic mouse/other....HMMMMM.....

  • beets says:

    when I was in grad school my PI ordered me to list 3 other professors as co authors on all my papers, even though those professors contributed zero to the papers (all they did was show up to meetings, sometimes...and then still not contribute anything useful)....the only thing these honorary authors did was share the grant that funded the work thereby providing my salary and other money and lab space. My PI didn't contribute to most of my papers either- he was always too busy traveling or writing more grants to actually keep up with what was going on in the lab, and most of his grants were multidisciplinary collaborations that they were beyond his scope anyway. Talking to him it was always clear his understanding of the science produced in his lab was always at a very superficial level, just enough to make big claims for his next grant proposals (and we students wrote most of the text for his proposals anyway, as well as addressed the questions from the program officers). We actually saw the PI as technically incompetent and just there to provide the money and lab space. Our real training and scientific learning came from the very excellent postdocs the PI hired.
    So most of my papers from grad school have all these honorary authors on them who contributed money and lab space but otherwise had no clue what the paper was actually about. But who no doubt add it to their CVs.
    Then in my postdoc lab it was totally different. for starters, here the PIs actually still did bench work and had their own research that they did themselves, in addition to advising postdocs on their projects. So I have a lot more respect for the PIs here, they are real senior scientists not just managers of junior scientists. Here the rule was you don't list people as co authors unless they actually had significant scientific contributions to the work. Also, we listed everyone in order of their contribution so it's not uncommon for the PI to be the middle author and other postdocs to be last author. I much prefer this system.

  • Alex says:

    The purpose of those "So and so did such and such" things is not for evaluating the CV of a tenure track candidate. Rather, the purpose is to try (however fruitlessly) to avoid inflated author lists.
    I've seen people added to papers for purely political reasons. Those third author slots might not get you jack on the job market, but if you are trying to show somebody that you run an active group with a lot of fruitful collaborations, those things have value. No, not as much value as a paper with your name as first or last author, but they count for something, otherwise these people wouldn't be bartering them around.
    If you have to actually say what the hell a person did to get on the paper, there's at least a chance that they'll be less likely to bullshit. OK, maybe it won't work ("Author #4 assisted with the analysis and interpretation of the data") but I see what they're trying to do.
    If nothing else, if the work winds up getting investigated, a list of who did what might be useful. Not only will you be able to narrow down who did what wrong, you'll also be able to immediately identify the political jackasses who got added for no damn reason ("Author #4 assisted with the analysis and interpretation of the data") and shame their sorry asses for playing barter games with some frauds.

  • bill says:

    PP, when two authors are listed as co-first, how the fuck can you possibly know anything about who did what (unless there's a "who did what" list and you actually read it)? And in the absence of such a list, why would I listen to you telling me a co-first is meaningless, rather than taking the authors' word for it that the two authors' contribution was so close that it was impossible to rank one above the other?
    You couldn't be more wrong and you're being a condescending asshole about it.
    Up yours, and merry christmas!
    (P.S. no, I don't have any co-firsts!!)

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I can't believe you are trolling your own blog, PP. Nice.
    Bill, don't fall for it. He's turding in your punchbowl.
    I'll play along: two groups independently undertake projects with a lead student/PD working on it. They meet up and decide that they shall collaborate and combine the projects in a joint publication, with each group offering key results/data, with each student/PD writing a significant portion of the manuscript and synthesizing the two efforts into a cohesive work. Let's say this pub is a "C/N/S" dickwinger than CPP is always talking about, and has 27 important supplemental figures and 7 multipaneled actual figures. Each student/PD would like to move on in the scientific pursuit and they know that a large portion of their current scientific existence is wrapped up in the work. They know that they will be evaluated for post-docs/faculty positions by shitheads that will render their second author publications meaningless. Given the fact that CPP is usually an almost reactionary defender of the status quo (this idea seems radical, but check it before you wreck it- the prevailing CPP oeuvre is "I KNOW HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS, YOU HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME OR GET OUT"- this is inherently conservative)- I'm a little surprised that he would denounce this realistically necessary step given increasing author lists and ever-lengthening papers.
    I know, I fell into the trap myself. Touch

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I'm going to go ahead and deal with DM's straw-author too. Yes, if someone just so happened to have the bad luck to always be the second listed co-first 8 times in a row. There could be something there. Unless that person's name was Zalmos Z. Zzyzyva and the paper's explicitly stated the first two authors were listed alphabetically, yeah I might judge that straw post-doc differently. How about this- I see a person with 8 first author papers, each with an average number of authors of 17. How do I judge that person relative to someone that has 4 co-first authors with an average number of authors of three, with two first listings and two second? We could play this all day.
    I think it seems like I'd have to judge the candidates by their letters, their research proposals, their seminar, and their chalk talk.

  • Anonymous says:

    As experimental research projects become larger, tackling more complex problems, and becoming more collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, it is inevitable that there will be increasing situations where it is plain inaccurate and thereby unethical to declare that one person deserves the lion's share of the credit.
    therefore, not only is the phenomenon of co-first authorship entirely reasonable but it also speaks to the changing nature of the way science is conducted, especially "big" science.
    It is still very possible to plan out projects or sub-projects where there is clearly a first-author. But to limit ourselves to only this type of black-and-white rigid project structure is ridiculous and basing hiring/promotion decisions solely on this model of research (or to advocate the continuation of such policies) is illogical. Even more illogical is trying to take a big complex project in which there is no clear single first-author and trying to make it fit into the model of declaring one person as being deserving of most of the credit. I'm surprised that there are scientists who think this is perfectly reasonable.
    the alternative is to limit the way we conduct science in order to satisfy the "unbreakable rule" that one person must take the lion's share of the credit. But limiting the progress of science and working collaborations in order to satisfy some arbitrary custom is ridiculous.

  • bill says:

    Bill, don't fall for it.
    Yeah, you might be right. I mighta got punked there. If this was a windup, it was a good one.
    CPP is usually an almost reactionary defender of the status quo (this idea seems radical
    Not radical at all; the system-as-is has done right by PP, it's not reasonable to expect him to be out to destroy it. I give him props for seeing more clearly than most where his privilege has got him and (e.g.) speaking up about the shitty deal that science gives women. But when he starts his this-is-not-a-tea-party schtick, I just tune that shit out. (Which is why I say, if this was a troll, it was bloody good.)

  • ponderingfool says:

    Can co-first author be a shame? Sure. Is it always? No. What about when two labs collaborate? Person X in lab A does alpha and Person Y in Lab B does beta. Both are necessary and contribute to understanding the system. Each contribution can lead to a first author paper in a lower journal. Together they take the paper to the CNS level. Both authors write drafts of the paper. Both came up with original ideas (in obvious collaboration with the PIs) that contributed to the paper. To make a nice clean divide is not always easy nor appropriate.

  • the only thing these honorary authors did was share the grant that funded the work thereby providing my salary and other money and lab space. My PI didn't contribute to most of my papers either ... his understanding of the science produced in his lab was always at a very superficial level, just enough to make big claims for his next grant proposals (and we students wrote most of the text for his proposals anyway, as well as addressed the questions from the program officers) ... We actually saw the PI as technically incompetent and just there to provide the money and lab space.
    Are we REALLY going to get into these arguments again? They have already been covered ad nauseum and are not related to the original post of the meaninglessness of co-1st authorships.

  • Lora says:

    +1 for #61 Anon.
    Things are very different in academia, where you work in your tower and the other department works in their tower and you only share an email once in a while. Where the other people in your lab are working in exactly the same discipline as you.
    I work in an industrial drug discovery lab. It's VERY different. It's not possible to do that kind of interdisciplinary work with only one lead author doing the lion's share of the intellectual work. You might have one molecular bio doing the constructs and cloning, a chemeng doing the specialized reactor for it, and then we hand the results off to the animal lab and say, "here, try this and tell us what the mice think of it." And when we do the intellectual work, it's in the form of long meetings in front of a whiteboard with coffee and bagels, with everyone interrupting and shouting at once. There's no real, "well, Joe shouted louder than Amy, so he gets first authorship."
    We do joke that we work in the People's Republic, where everyone is equal. Basically, apart from co-first-authorship, you know you're going to be working with the same people for the next foreseeable several years, so we more or less take turns on who's first.

  • Dave says:

    Here is a real-life example that hopefully will make CPP think twice about his dogmatic insistence that joint first authorships should be ignored...
    I have a friend who made a significant discovery. One that many people on this board will probably recognize as significant. She sent her paper to Nature. Her paper only had two authors. She was first author, Her PI was second author. While her paper was in review, a competing lab using a complementary but nonetheless also overlapping approach came to the same conclusion. They submitted to Nature, my friend learned of it, and everyone coordinated revisions so the papers could appear back-to-back. Both papers were accepted. Sounds good, right?
    Alas, the editors suddenly decided there should be only one paper. They told the labs to merge the manuscripts. But the paper from the competing lab already had two people listed as co-first authors! Furthermore, these two were ambitious young male scientists who wanted to stay first authors. My friend, in contrast, was a low-key habitually generous female in a dual-career marriage. So what happened?
    The paper was published with THREE first authors, and my friend -- who did more work than anybody, and did it first -- is listed third. Her PI is last author. Basically, the author list is: First author from lab A, Co-first author from lab A, Co-first author from lab B (my friend), PI from lab A, PI from lab B.
    Fortunately, my experience is that hiring and grant committees actually DO read CVs carefully, and pay attention to stated author contributions. As others have mentioned, co-first authorships don't usually count as much as sole first authorships. But they count. And they should.
    That said, my advice is that grad students and postdocs reading this try to get their name listed first on their papers if at all possible, to satisfy the occasional lazy CPP-like CV reader.

  • As experimental research projects become larger, tackling more complex problems, and becoming more collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, it is inevitable that there will be increasing situations where it is plain inaccurate and thereby unethical to declare that one person deserves the lion's share of the credit.
    therefore, not only is the phenomenon of co-first authorship entirely reasonable but it also speaks to the changing nature of the way science is conducted, especially "big" science.

    The paper was published with THREE first authors, and my friend -- who did more work than anybody, and did it first -- is listed third. Her PI is last author. Basically, the author list is: First author from lab A, Co-first author from lab A, Co-first author from lab B (my friend), PI from lab A, PI from lab B.

    These kinds of scenarios are exactly why co-first-authorship is horrible phenomenon. Without a lot of difficult digging, there is no way to get the real truth that is behind co-first-authorship, and so the "legitimate" co-first authors get dragged down with the political compromise co-firsts. The only reasonable solution is to do away with author order in allocating credit.
    BTW, your friend's PI fucked up big time in the second scenario. She should have told the editors of Nature that she was withdrawing her manuscript and gone immediately to Science with it, explaining the situation and showing them the reviews and decision letters from Nature. Chances are very good they would have gotten it reviewed and published very quickly.

  • sto says:

    Honestly, if I did a shitload of work and got relegated to 3rd position in a 3-co-first author situation, I'd raise hell. That is NOT the same as being first author on a two author paper.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Are we REALLY going to get into these arguments again? They have already been covered ad nauseum
    actually a thought occurred to me reading that comment that is worthy of further discussion. There are potential strategic reasons in this example that go beyond personal back-slapping nepotism/buddyism.

  • The only reasonable solution is to do away with author order in allocating credit.
    So what's the way to do this? "A.S. Postdoc (55% experimental, 5% theoretical work), B.S. Postdoc (5% experimental, 85% theoretical), C.S. Grad student (30% experimental, 5% theoretical), D.S. Advisor (rest of it)."
    Doesn't seem likely to happen. What we would all like to know from authorship is who led the project, who had intellectual contributions, and who had experimental contributions. Why not make it mandatory for those to be more explicit in the author contribution statements? How else can we possibly improve the author credit situation?

  • Dave says:

    As an addendum to my post #66 above, I checked up on the person whose name was listed first. That person now has a big lab at UCSF. His publication list shows the paper described above, but does not note any joint first-authorships. As I mentioned above, I think this is misconduct. But it is common. I think it is common, and often excused, because people like CPP say author annotations are meaningless and encourage us all to think similarly.
    There is one pub from my lab that has joint first authorship. We tried very hard to make it not so, and it was a topic of some heated discussion, but there was really no fair way around it. I tried to get J. Neuroscience to use a slash instead of a comma in order to make clear the joint first-authorship (as in 'Author A/Author B, Author C...'), but the reply was: "I think the "contributed equally" statement will have to suffice. It not journal style to add a slash between names. I will, however, check into it further and let you know whether we can make an exception, but as of now I would venture to say no." It never went anywhere after that. The paper is shown on my web page with the slash, however, and I have encouraged the authors to use the slash on their CVs and reverse the name order whenever they wished.

  • Dave says:

    CPP said, Regarding my story in #66:"BTW, your friend's PI fucked up big time in the second scenario. She should have told the editors of Nature that she was withdrawing her manuscript and gone immediately to Science with it, explaining the situation and showing them the reviews and decision letters from Nature. Chances are very good they would have gotten it reviewed and published very quickly."
    I agree. And I know that was discussed. It's possible that the other lab was not willing to do so, in which case my friend (and her PI) might have been worried about being scooped. Keep in mind also that my friend's PI ended up being listed last. So things worked out just dandy for him.
    Regardless, no matter how you shake it, my friend got screwed -- first by her co-authors and PI, and subsequently by every lazy-ass evaluator who doesn't bother to take authorship annotations into account.

  • Dave says:

    Regarding the suggestion in #70 --
    Actually, this is increasingly common practice, and some journals and editors actively push for it. The editors at Nature Neuroscience, for example, encouraged me to write an explicit author contribution paragraph for our most recent paper there. Nature pub right now has a lot of editors who are into this sort of thing. Several of them even have blogs where they discuss these sorts of matters. Even if the editors or journals don't ask for it, it is ALWAYS an option. Just stick it in the acknowledgements. You can write pretty much anything in the acknowledgements. A PI of mine once stuck a dedication to Jerry Garcia in there.

  • DSKS says:

    "Alas, the editors suddenly decided there should be only one paper. They told the labs to merge the manuscripts."
    WTF?!!
    On a related note, Pinko Punko said,
    "two groups independently undertake projects with a lead student/PD working on it. They meet up and decide that they shall collaborate and combine the projects in a joint publication, with each group offering key results/data, with each student/PD writing a significant portion of the manuscript and synthesizing the two efforts into a cohesive work."
    What I would ask in this situation is whether there is a damned good reason to merge? Two papers submitted simultaneously from independent labs - particularly using different techniques - establishing the same finding is a far better thing both in terms of demonstrating reproducible science and in terms of granting the lead student/PDs a full credit rather than a shared credit. And what about the other end of the author list? What if the two collaborating PIs are jr faculty members with tenure looming?
    Even if PPs wrong and the environment is more progressive of late, the question still remains whether it is a good investment of time for both postdocs and jr faculty to put considerable energy into projects that they will only get half credit for.
    Quick Q for Search Committee veterans:
    How long do you generally take to read each application in the first round of the process (forget the first two or three; I want the average time you spend on applications after reviewing them has started to get old)?
    I think this question is relevant, because I think part of PPs argument is that the shared authorship thing mainly presents a stumbling block at the oft fickle foot-in-door stage.

  • Dave says:

    DSKS (re: #74): I don't know why the editors wanted to merge. I too think they should have been two papers. Same conclusion (first protein ID/molecular description of a physiological phenomenon), yes, but different approaches in different organisms.
    As for job applications, it depends on how many there are and how organized the search is. But here is a rough description based on my direct and indirect experience. Note that I do not necessarily agree with everything; I am just saying this is the way it works.
    1) Note the applicant's name and lab. Perhaps Big Name PI has already emailed or called asking you to take an extra careful look at this particular application. If so, then give an extra careful look so you can if necessary eventually explain how it was a surprisingly strong pool and though X would have been great to have as a colleague, certain committee members had different ideas about who would be the best fit.
    2) Flip through the CV looking to see if the applicant has published anything decent (e.g. with titles you recognize or on topics you know something about and/or are actually interested in).
    3) See if the applicant was first or last author. Co-first authorships count for less, but not too much. If the applicant has all middle authorships then see if they have been a postdoc for a really long time, in which case write them off as 'lab manager' types rather than PIs. Or see if the applicant is a woman, because women often get shafted when it comes to authorship. If so, then feel bad.
    4) See if by chance the applicant has significant funding.
    5) Read the research plan. If it is actually interesting and there are decent pubs and especially if there is funding, set aside the application for a possible interview, especially if someone knows them and/or has heard good things about them or seen them talk at a meeting somewhere and do a good job.
    6) Read the teaching plan. Laugh at how stupid and useless and vague these things tend to be, because the real challenges of teaching are nothing like anyone thinks. Regardless, if we wanted a teacher we'd be hiring a non tenure track instructor, not a TT faculty member.

  • niewiap says:

    I kind of agree with CPP in that the system does not really need to be changed for it to work. Yeah, yeah, I know there are cases when it is unfair, when people who did a shitload of work and greatly contributed intellectually only get credit as second co-first authors (lets call them SCFAs), but:
    1. These situations are extremely rare, and in most cases you can clearly point out the first author who has a vast majority of the intellectual contribution.
    2. It's true that at least some hiring committees will give the SCFAs a lot of credit.
    3. If we actually managed to somehow (how????) change the system in that SCFAs were treated equally to plain first authors, people would tend to whine about being listed as second and not as second co-first, and in result there would be a tendency, for purely political reasons, to have a lot of papers with SCFAs in them. As a result, the system would reach a new equilibrium, but I am not sure if it would be more fair or beneficial to science. Such a change would probably result in more collaborative effort a la industry, but I am afraid that it could hamper brilliant innovation, which mostly happens in the individualistic world of academia. After all, only one person can get the really groundbreaking idea or make a breakthrough discovery, otherwise they would not be groundbreaking or breakthrough. Consequently, people would be discouraged from spending hours and hours on breaking dogmas and shifting paradigms, because they would get the same credit for a much less stressful and frustrating work consisting of piggybacking on somebody else's ideas. Bottom line: the current system has few disadvantages, but it just fucking works.

  • DSKS says:

    inre: Dave #75
    That's interesting, I appreciate the feedback.

  • The paper is shown on my web page with the slash, however, and I have encouraged the authors to use the slash on their CVs and reverse the name order whenever they wished.

    Please tell me you are just trolling with this shit, because this is horrifyingly bad advice. You are encouraging your trainees to falsify their CVs.
    If I noticed on a CV that a second co-first author had reversed the order of the the names and listed hers first, I would take a very, very dim view of that person's probity. And if it were a job applicant, their application would be dismissed with extreme prejudice.

    How long do you generally take to read each application in the first round of the process (forget the first two or three; I want the average time you spend on applications after reviewing them has started to get old)?

    Many can be discarded within seconds, with a very quick look at the CV, based on where the person did their post-doc--not in the US or Europe, then forget about it--and their pubs--no first author pubs, then forget about it.
    Those that survive this initial triage get a closer look that takes a minute or so for each application. If the applicant has no first author pubs in a >10 impact factor journal, then it is highly likely they are not going any further. One exception might be an impressive number (like five or more) first-author pubs in 5-10 impact factor journals.
    Those that remain then get a close reading, to actually look at the science they have done as a post-doc and the research plan. This takes me about five minutes per application, but I am extremely fast reader.
    And just to be clear, this is how things are done at my institution, which is a fancy-ass private medical school. Every institution has its own hiring practices. The reason that Young Female Scientist, for example, "can't get a job" is that she appears to only be willing to entertain job possibilities at fancy-ass institutions, and not ones whose hiring standards she has a chance of satisfying.

  • Dave says:

    CPP says, regarding my advice that switching author order is fine for joint first authors: "Please tell me you are just trolling with this shit, because this is horrifyingly bad advice. You are encouraging your trainees to falsify their CVs.
    I am not trolling. I actually do think it's fine. It's even logical. If A=B, then B=A. If co-first authorship is really co-first authorship, then the order in which the names appear is arbitrary.
    "If I noticed on a CV that a second co-first author had reversed the order of the the names and listed hers first, I would take a very, very dim view of that person's probity. And if it were a job applicant, their application would be dismissed with extreme prejudice."
    It is useful to know that there are illogical dickwads out there. I will adjust my advice accordingly.

  • ... if we wanted a teacher we'd be hiring a non tenure track instructor, not a TT faculty member.
    At the risk of veering off topic ... I have to disagree. Granted, teaching plans and statements of teaching philosophy are a bunch of crap but teaching is a vital part of most departments and finding someone who is an active research as well as a competent and experienced teacher is often a big plus. Constantly farming out teaching responsibilities to adjuncts and non-TT instructors tells the students that nobody really cares about their learning ... kinda goes against the idea of "education".

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I was also surprised to hear PP's take on switching order for one's own CV. I thought this was acceptable. Concur that if they are supposed to be truly equal....
    Here's a thought- with modern tech wouldn't it be trivial to program PubMed to randomly present the order for co-credit? You could probably get the journal to randomly re-author and rebuild the PDF each download too.

  • Alex says:

    Statements of teaching philosophy written by people who haven't taught are generally 100% crap. Statements of teaching philosophy written by people who have taught are about 80% crap.

  • It doesn't matter that it's "logical". You are advising people to falsify the actual published author order on their CVs.
    Think about it this way: You know very well that being actually listed first among co-firsts has value in terms of allocation of credit, as proven by the fact that co-firsts fight and maneuver and argue to be actually listed first. This is because being actually listed first is the outcome of a process and it tells readers of the paper something about that outcome. You are encouraging your trainees to *lie* about the outcome of that process, and to assert possession of credit that they were unable to secure through the process.
    I am flabbergasted that you don't see that this is completely utterly unethical. Can someone please help me out here?

  • BikeMonkey says:

    Statements by artists, including literary authors, about the philosophy and meaning of their craft and works are 110% crap. (extra 10% is for the brain cells lost listening to someone like axl explain his work)
    I doubt teaching plans are much better.....

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP, you are stuck in a circular argument. Start with the premise that two authors are truly equal and any static representation on paper or in PubMed is a trivial bug of technology.

  • Dave says:

    "You are advising people to falsify the actual published author order on their CVs."
    No, I'm not. If there are two first authors, there are two FIRST authors.
    The fact that names appear one after another is merely a necessity of our linear writing, and as DM mentions, ultimately an artifact of the publishing process. Joint-position authorships are an explicit circumvention of these silly limitations. And those annotations should not be ignored.

  • DSKS says:

    I think PP is right to query whether authorship can be altered on a whim, regardless of equality and equanimity among certain of the authors. Isn't the author list "published" with the manuscript? i.e. one can no more legitimately change the sequence of authors than they can change the title of the manuscript after publication? I might be wrong, but I think that would have to be settled one way or the other.
    Other than that, obviously it shouldn't logically matter who comes first between two equal authors. But the issue here isn't logic, I don't think, but the flexibility authors have in altering a piece of published work.

  • Dave says:

    People who have read this far may be interested in this:
    http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v8/n11/full/7401095.html
    A key line relevant to the topic is:
    "The differing values of byline positions become evident in the case of 'joint first authors' or declarations that authors 'contributed equally'. Presumably, in the absence of such a statement, readers might assume that the contribution of the second author is less than it actually was."
    That's what joint first (or second or third) authorship comes down to -- a request that due credit be given to a second-listed person. That request should, in my opinion, be honored at face value. Not ridiculed.

  • former postdoc says:

    comment #66: Alas, the editors suddenly decided there should be only one paper. They told the labs to merge the manuscripts...
    I always wonder, do journal editors realize how objectionable such a request (or demand) is to most authors? Or do they just not give a hoot because it is not their problem.
    The same thing has happened to me personally. It wasn't C/N/S, but was still one of the top journals in my field. When I was a postdoc I used to work for this control-freak PI and had some differences of opinion with him and so he asked me to leave his lab (well 'kicked me out' is more accurate) and I was only too happy to leave. In my next lab I continued the same work since I was on a fellowship (and my new PI was OK with it since he wasn't paying me).
    About a year later I submitted my results to one of the top journals in our field and it was accepted with excellent reviews. But the editorial committee then suddenly informed me that they had received a closely related paper at the same time, turns out from my former PI, the one who had fired me.
    My paper was related to one aspect of the larger more general paper my ex-PI wrote. Apparently in his paper he loosely mentioned the work I was doing but gave no credit to me, not surprising. The editors saw the close connection and probably thought the timing was 'ideal'. They sent an e-mail cc-ing both of us, requiring that I hand my results over to him to include in HIS paper, thereby relegating me to middle author on his paper which had 7 or 8 authors already. (my paper only had 3 authors)
    Considering that I was not on good terms with my ex-PI, this was completely unacceptable to me. The former PI even told me somewhat snidely that he was willing to be "generous" by allowing me to put my results in his paper, and he would make me 5th author. After all, he said, it would be good for me to have my name on a paper in this top journal in our field. Can you say, slap in the face?
    I instead retracted my paper and seriously considered publishing it in a lower ranked journal. But instead I spent another year and half getting more data and developing it further, and then re-submitted it to that same top journal and published it then (with only 3 authors, me being the first author). So even though it took nearly 3 years to get that particular paper published, in the end I got it published in the top journal in my field anyway and with me as first author, and it was a better paper in the end from having had another years' worth of work in it.

  • Anonymous says:

    #61: As experimental research projects become larger, tackling more complex problems, and becoming more collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, it is inevitable that there will be increasing situations where it is plain inaccurate and thereby unethical to declare that one person deserves the lion's share of the credit.
    #66: The paper was published with THREE first authors, and my friend -- who did more work than anybody, and did it first -- is listed third.
    CPP@#67: These kinds of scenarios are exactly why co-first-authorship is horrible phenomenon. Without a lot of difficult digging, there is no way to get the real truth that is behind co-first-authorship, and so the "legitimate" co-first authors get dragged down with the political compromise co-firsts. The only reasonable solution is to do away with author order in allocating credit.
    Actually CPP, you made my point for me (#61). Without co-first authorships, then "these kinds of scenarios" can't help but be completely political as to who gets to be the one-and-only first-author. Co-firsts is at a mechanism that allows the credit to be shared appropriately where it is due. Like any other mechanism it can abused (similar to much of the academic status quo, including traditional author ordering schemes). Without co-firsts, in these kinds of scenarios, there is no mechanism at all to even attempt share the credit appropriately. (apart from the 'contributions' sections, which can be there with or without co-firsts)

  • Doomed postdoc says:

    It's not the main track of the discussin, but I'm still somewhat surprised that this statement (CPP @#78, on reading applications) has gone without comment.
    "Many can be discarded within seconds, with a very quick look at the CV, based on where the person did their post-doc--not in the US or Europe, then forget about it--and their pubs--no first author pubs, then forget about it."
    Well, I guess I'm fucked then. A PhD in Australia and post-doc in Canada is going to doom me to a life of second-tier research.

  • HAHAHAHAH! Yeah, think of Canada like the 51st state.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Doomed postdoc,
    You should appreciate CPP's patriotism, even if it is the Bush-Cheney type. 😉

  • a former hiring committee member says:

    CPP: If I noticed on a CV that a second co-first author had reversed the order of the the names and listed hers first, I would take a very, very dim view of that person's probity. And if it were a job applicant, their application would be dismissed with extreme prejudice.
    You could certainly do that but you would be wrong to do so.
    As you just said yourself here, your decision is based on 'extreme prejudice', not on any logic or reason. And there lies the problem.
    The more that prejudice is encouraged and perpetuated - by scientists which is ironic since we of all people are supposed to be objective - the more we will lose future scientific talent. Young, bright and hardworking scientists will not want to go into science if they see that it is not their merits or hard work but others' prejudices that determines their success.
    I fail to see how you, as a scientist, can treat data from your experiments with the strictest of rigor (which I assume you do) yet when it comes to examining data on job applicants, make such snap conclusions based on so little information and think the decision making process was sound. There is a huge disconnect here.
    I dont' know if maybe you are so strapped for time that you are not interested in examining the data (on job applicants) more rigorously - in which case you would be doing a shoddy job as a hiring committee - or else maybe you think that for some reason prejudices are OK and good. (such views tend to be held by those who benefit from the prejudice)

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    @#95 such views tend to be held by those who benefit from the prejudice
    DING DING DING DING DING! We have a winner!

  • I'm sorry you dumbfucks didn't get the "extreme prejudice" allusion. It has nothing to do with actual prejudice. The application would be discarded because the applicant had provided unambiguous evidence that they were willing to falsify their CV to further their career goals.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminate_with_extreme_prejudice

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite movies and I am fully familiar with the context of the quote. Regardless, a former hiring committee member's point is still spot-on.

  • Dave says:

    I can't believe I'm on CPP's side here, but I don't think his description of the hiring process, though flippant, is all that inaccurate. For sure it is true that misconduct real or imagined can kill an application fast, exactly as CPP says. I once had an application of mine shuffled to a lower point in the pile because my postdoc advisor had a scandal -- and the scandal was before I even joined the lab. Some on the hiring committee worried that I might be 'tainted'. I know this because a friend of mine was on the selection committee. Unfortunately my friend was very junior faculty from a neighboring institution, brought in more for expertise than decision-making. And what defense does one give against 'taint' anyway? In the end I consoled myself with the thought that a department that worked on rumor and innuendo wasn't the sort of place I would like anyway.
    P.S. The irony of the thing overall is that I joined the 'scandalous' lab in a desperate escape from a lab where the PI really was really totally corrupt. This (married) PI had a long-running affair with his grad student (now junior faculty), regularly falsified info on grant applications, and falsified & misrepresented data in papers. But he's incredibly charming and popular. Writes and speaks very well. Anyway, after a discussion one night where he asked me to 'select' data in a totally misleading way and unethically scoop someone (His exact words were: "Do it or I'll find someone who will."), I decided it was definitely time to go. Per University regulations, I was required to give at least two weeks notice. I filled out the forms so my last day was my birthday, which was coming up. Best present I have ever given myself.
    P.P.S For those outraged that such a guy as described above exists, I take heart in the fact that very little of the crap from his lab tends to be reproducible. And few people move from his lab to independent positions. Which means he has no real legacy. Although it's annoying that he has 3 R01s and hard money support in the mean time.

  • Physiogroupie IV says:

    Nothing wrong with siding with CPP now and again, especially if he is right. 🙂
    Dave, I have some horror stories about successful PI's as well. It's as if they are rewarded for acting this way. Have you considered blogging? Mostly, I am curious how you moved up the ranks to become a PI yourself given your postdoc experience.

  • Dave says:

    "Have you considered blogging? "
    No, not seriously. I'd suck at it.
    "Mostly, I am curious how you moved up the ranks to become a PI yourself given your postdoc experience."
    Bad things happen; they need not be career killers. The key is to get away from a bad situation ASAP, without making a big stink or being bitter about it forever. Just get on with your stuff and things will work out eventually. My bad postdoc advisor tried to destroy my career for a while afterwards, but I was publishing and not fighting back (a battle I knew I would lose), so his efforts fizzled. I see him at meetings occasionally and we generally avoid each other. History.
    It helped at the time that lots of other people knew he was sort of shitty, and when I left his lab I got lots of quiet congratulations. That support can't be underestimated.

  • RR says:

    It is really disheartening to know that co-first authorship is worth so little to so many. I am finishing up my MSc now only to have my work merged in a paper with another project done by a post doc in a collaborating lab (completely different intervention, but same line of mutants and ending up with similar results). We're submitting to a major, major journal and due to seniority, the post doc's name will be going first. Yes, I get the asterisk, but apparently that is useless. So much for working my ass off.

  • blogger says:

    The authors’s individual contributions are clearly stated in the paper (see below). It appears as if H.A. was the major driving and operational force in the study. According to historical practice standards, he/she would have been recognized first and corresponding co-author. In recent years, this practice has been showing a different trend in that different kind of contributions are considered equal. Perhaps to help more young investigators to apply for grants, get independent positions and so on ????.
    Author Contributions H.A., Y.K. and D.I. contributed equally to this work. Y.K.
    overexpressed and purified the human LTC4S. H.A. optimized the enzyme
    purification methods. H.A., D.I. and T.S. crystallized the enzyme. D.I. prepared the
    SeMet protein. H.A. and M.M. solved the structure. B.K.L. performed the LTC4S
    assay. H.A., Y.K., K.F.A. and M.M. guided the work and prepared the manuscript. All
    authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

  • Anonymous says:

    Probably BBC should come up with a show Yes Professor ala Yes Minister and the sequel could be Yes Institute Professor.

  • [...] we last wrangled at length over the treatment of "equal contribution" authorships on the CV certain opinions [...]

  • […] is, vaguely, related to an ongoing argument we have around here with respect to the proper treatment of authors who are listed as contributing "co-equally" to a […]

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