Altering Listed Order Of Co-First Authors On CV: Totally Cool Or Falsification?

Dec 23 2008 Published by under Conduct of Science, Ethics

An interesting ethical issue has arisen as a sub-topic in our discussion of co-first authorship. One of our commenters asserted that he encourages his co-first author trainees to list their name first on their CVs even if they are not actually listed first in the published paper:

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.


My response to this wackaloonery was as follows:

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.

There is more detailed back-and-forth argumentation on this issue over there.
Dear readers, please tell us what you think about this.

88 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The idea that the practice of shifting order is unethical is new to me. I've seen it done on CVs occasionally and my friends from labs in which this equal-contribution nonsense is routine think the reorder is totally kosher.

  • DSKS says:

    Perhaps there's a disconnect here between what people are cool with and what is ethically mandated. Is it or isn't it, appropriate to alter a published statement without say-so from either the publisher and co-authors?
    Or is the list of authors given in a CV not a direct quote of the front page of the manuscript but simply an approximate description of the contributors? I've assumed that the list of pubs in my CV are guided by the same rules of ethics as a list of references in a paper; that they are direct excerpts of published work and thus must accurately reflect the published statements.
    That probably sounds like nitpicking, but then the same could be said for a lot of ethical issues. The concern would be that it might only take one purist who likes people to follow the rulez to shoot down you app in the early stages. Thus, is it worth taking the risk that people are "cool" with gerrymandering the author list, or is is safer to go with the asterisk?

  • Alex says:

    In Nature and Science, they include overviews of selected paper, written to be accessible to a wider audience than the subfield of the work. Those overview articles will generally say "In this issue, Chang et. al. showed that..." If the article has co-first authors, do the overview articles say "Chang and Ahmad et. al. showed that...." or "Chang, Ahmad, et. al. showed that..." or do they just say "Chang et. al. showed that..."? If either of the first two conventions are followed, do the authors switch back and forth throughout the article, i.e. "Chang and Ahmad et. al. showed that..... The most impressive thing about the technique used by Ahmad and Chang et. al...."?
    That would seem to be a place to get editorial guidance on this. If the people accepting, publishing, and archiving the paper make a point of listing those authors together in solicited surveys of the work, then it would seem that the co-firsts really are recorded as getting equal glory, and it is not a misrepresentation to switch author order.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Nobody does this Alex. Wasn't that CPP's original point? That nobody save the bought-off second author recognizes equal contribution?

  • okham says:

    I think there may be two separate issues here. The way I understood the thread, PP's original post targeted the very practice of having more than one first author, presumably because he feels that this situation is simply not possible -- there has to be a leading author and that person has to be listed first.
    Now, if we accept that in some cases multiple first authorship may be appropriate, then I also see nothing unethical with switching the order of names among first authors -- but then again, why do it ? Why not simply put asterisks as on the manuscript itself ? Would altering order not create problems with searches ?

  • neurlover says:

    The obvious reason not to do this is that people won't be able to find the paper, if they look for it with the wrong author order. Are they supposed to notice that the author list is different and then make sure it's the same paper by matching up everything else? That would drive me nutty, and make me worry that I've actually still missed the correct paper.
    Now, I think the idea of a "/" works, instead of a comma. There's nothing preventing someone from doing that, and it won't confuse the person who tries to look up the paper.
    And, there are a few cite styles that use the 1st two authors in the cite with et al, rather than just the first. I can't remember whose, but I know there's an endnote style sheet that does this, 'cause I've used it accidentally.

  • jc says:

    Switching out co-first authors is fucking crazy talk. But I think co-first authors is bullshit too. One "first author" can be first and the other "first author" can be last author. Dealio? Put the BigName who oh so badly wants to be last (but didn't do the work or read the paper) in the middle somewhere so he still gets credit for uhm, doing sumthin/nuthin? BigName will survive - his career will be fine.
    DM - you must be on the ditchweed stuff I had to look up. Allowing PubMed to randomly order the co-first-authors is WHACKED!

  • okham says:

    Maybe a cleaner way to solve this conundrum may be this one: in the section of the CV that lists "Refereed Publications", one could have a subsection reading "First-authored manuscripts", listing all manuscripts in which the applicant is first author (either in co-habitation with others or alone). One could simply list the title, the journal and the page number (i.e., no author list).
    Then one could have another section titled something like "Other manuscripts", and there is where all the non-first-authored ones could go...

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Listing any list of authors, whether in one's CV or elsewhere, in a different order from its published one is an act of falcification!!!

  • DSKS says:

    I think the earth just shook a little.

  • Lou says:

    I can understand the arguments, but I still think it is unethical - it is a published piece of work. If a book had several authors, you still wouldn't go around changing the order of the authors depending on contribution ratios.
    And how about those Physics or Genomics papers with 20++ authors all listed alphabetically? Published work is published work.

  • Angel says:

    WTF, this is crazy. There are actually two issues here.
    1-authorship order, who among us hasn't been the one who did all the work but ended up "somewhere in the middle" because of "lab crap"? It happens; grow up. Quit whining and get back to work -- these things become apparent in time.
    2- publishing and search conventions - THIS MATTERS, how on earth can we consistantly refer to and find a paper if people keep switching the order of authors to suit ego. Crap what a nightmare!
    Unethical and bad advice; no question.

  • pinus says:

    I have seen people who have done it on their CV. Really didn't think twice about it. I would never do it though.

  • I think citations should be reported as they are recorded. Even if it were ethical the switch author's names(and I think it is not), it creates an appearance of wrong doing should someone PubMed your papers and see that you have switched the order of the names in the publication. You may not be given the opportunity to explain why you did so -- people might simply view it as shenanigans and write you off as a jokester. Just don't freaking do it. If this is really such a big deal, note it in your CV.

  • Dave says:

    Just to keep things in context and clarify my line:
    OK with me:
    1. Rearrange names of people who are listed as having 'contributed equally'. This would only reasonably happen on a CV. What is the danger? No one is cheated. And I honestly don't see how it could confuse searches, since Pubmed ignores author name order in searches anyway (try it if you don't believe me).
    NOT OK with me:
    1. Switching name order, for any reason, when authors are NOT listed as 'contributing equally'.
    2. Equally bad is failing to note joint first (or second or third) authorship on one's CV. This basically steals credit from a co-author. Yet I see it all the time. Here is a fun game: Search Pubmed for "contributed equally" and the name of some hot young PI in your field. If you find a joint first authorship in his/her history, check their web page to see if they've noted it as such.

  • OK with me:
    1. Rearrange names of people who are listed as having 'contributed equally'. This would only reasonably happen on a CV.

    So, you would not permit rearranging names when citing the paper in another publication? If that is the case, then please explain the basis for distinguishing those two situations.
    The fact that someone would want to rearrange the co-first authors to put themself first establishes that it is misleading to do so.

  • Alex says:

    I like Okham's idea best: Have separate headings on the CV for first-authored papers (however many firsts there might be) and all other papers. People already tend to have separate categories for invited and contributed presentations, and in some fields people don't even list every paper that they're on (e.g. my friend in astrophysics doesn't list all of the dozens of papers that the collaboration has published during his time in the collaboration, just the ones where his name is asterisked as the lead/corresponding/whatever author out of 250 people).
    If I had a co-first paper, I'd re-arrange my CV that way.

  • PGIV says:

    The fact that someone would want to rearrange the co-first authors to put themself first establishes that co-first authorships are not the same as getting a first author paper if you are the author listed second.

  • okham says:

    The fact that someone would want to rearrange the co-first authors to put themself first establishes that it is misleading to do so.
    I think the situation to which Dave is referring is the following: if an applicant has a number of papers in which she is listed as first author (as in "having contributed equally" as the first author) but her name is often second or third in the author list, then she may want to protect herself from the possibility that the search committee may overlook her contribution, i.e., not appreciate that she did "contribute equally", by merely looking at the author lists.
    It seems a reasonable concern. You said it yourself that "first authored papers" carry more weight, and if I, the applicant, have that many, I want to be darn sure that they will be recognized as such. I agree that tampering with the official author list is a funny business, and may raise eyebrows, but if somehow multiple first authorship has come to be seen as acceptable practice, then a mechanism to ensure proper recognition is in order.

  • Dave says:

    Yes, obviously being listed second in a joint first authorship does not quite have the same impact as being listed first. I do not live in a fantasy dream world. That is exactly why I advocate name order switching on one's CV, or at least the use of slashes. If people actually gave credit where credit is due (according to what the authors themselves say), there would be no problem.

  • PGIV says:

    Look, let the asterisk speak for itself.
    Anyone who has to be the second-listed co-first author better work on getting some real first author papers to beef up his/her CV. That's all...

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Before my very first paper was submitted for publication (as part of my M.Sc. thesis), my mentor explained to me how the system of authorship (two authors) order works in his lab; "We toss a coin, the winner get first authorship. On the next paper the loser get first authorship." Being a complete novice at the time, but fully aware of the fact that there would be no second paper, since I was moving to another institution for my doctoral thesis, I still felt that this was BS, especially since I really did the research almost completely on my own using an organism that my mentor knew almost nothing about. Luckily for me I won the coin toss and got my name first on my first publication. Ironically, it became the most cited paper of that a-hole mentor of mine. I just wonder how many grad students and postdocs are cheated out on first authorship by their mentors.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP, S.Riv and co-thinkers-
    If it is fraudulent to reshuffle the author list on your CV to reflect the meaning of the co-credit, is it not also true (as Dave pointed out) that it is equally fraudulent to omit indication of shared credit when one is the first-listed author? I bet a failure to indicate shared credit when one is the first-listed author is far more common than is re-ordering...

  • Dave says:

    Okham nails it in #19. Thanks.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    If your CV claims to cite actual references, no changing. If you make explicit on you CV that the bibliography is a description of you work and contributions, maybe OK, but probably not. Highlight, bold, asterix, underline, expressly note. These things are all you can do. If some cobag wants to claim that you aren't the "real" first author, they can rot. It is best to just be up front about it.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM,
    If one's name is the first on a list of authors, even if this first authorship is shared by another author, not mentioning that fact in one's CV is absolutely not fraudulent. However, for fairness sake, I would expect that said author would put an (*) by her name or the second author with an explanation. Next you will demand that the gender of authors be mentioned, too, for fairness sake, with the right symbols. 😉

  • I'm totally with Comrade here. Your CV should reflect reality, not your imaginary rainbow first-author universe.
    By all means, add an asterisk or slash, or bold-face the first two names with a comment, or draw giant circles and arrows and "JOINT FIRST PLZ NOTICE" if you wish. But do not consider reordering the authors to gratify your ego.
    First-joint-first authors should indeed add some asterisks to their own CVs as well.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If one's name is the first on a list of authors, even if this first authorship is shared by another author, not mentioning that fact in one's CV is absolutely not fraudulent.
    I fail to see how you can come to this conclusion. It is a misrepresentation of the author credit listed on the journal page as assuredly as changing the author order, is it not? In fact more so. Suppose I had the CV of each author in front of me to review for a job and thought "WTF, these seem to be citing the same paper but the order is different". So I'd trundle off to the actual paper. If I had to say which one was doing the greater amount of mis-representing it would be a close argument.
    Hmm, I wonder how many listed-second authors who shift the order on their CV also note that it is a shared first-authorship in some way? If that was done it would be much more ethically sound than the listed-first author who fails to indicate sharing in any way..

  • Dave says:

    RIvlin sez in #26: "If one's name is the first on a list of authors, even if this first authorship is shared by another author, not mentioning that fact in one's CV is absolutely not fraudulent. "
    By omitting credit where it is due and properly noted in the original publication, you are cheating a co-author. This is clearly misconduct. It is even likely to be punishable by ORI, since ORI generally stays away from authorship disputes but nevertheless defines misconduct as an 'intent to mislead' [for one's own benefit], which this clearly is.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM, Dave,
    The list of authors on a published paper is an inseparable part of a record (the published paper in an official depository of records, i.e., the journal). Whether the reason for the way a given record being recorded is a process (per CPP) or a linear language writing (per Dave), it does not change the fact that it is a record for all times. It is also true that an asterisk or a slash is part of the record and should be included in one's CV. However, by physically changing the order of authors on the record one is changing the record and thus committing a fraudulent act.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Interestingly teh Toobz aren't really helping me out on this one. I found some discussion here and here that follows similar trends as our little confab on this blog.
    Those other discussions offer support for the notion that people are being told (possible as a cynical part of the buy-off dodge) that it is okay to switch the order on the CV. It also seems to support the contention that many people think this is a wrong thing to do and appears an unethical misrepresentation.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    It is also true that an asterisk or a slash is part of the record and should be included in one's CV. However, by physically changing the order of authors on the record one is changing the record and thus committing a fraudulent act.
    Right, so if the asterisk is an essential part of the record, omission is equally fraudulent. We are not talking about leaving out a middle initial here! The asterisk is a meaningful part of the authorship line. How can you not object to this as well? How is it a lesser offense?

  • Dr. Isis says:

    How can you not object to this as well? How is it a lesser offense?

    It's not a lesser offense. It's just as fraudulent. Then again, if you believe one co-authored paper is going to make or break an application, you might have bigger things to be concerned with.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    You got me there, on the asterisk thing, DM. You are correct that if the asterisk is part of the record, omitting it should be considered fraudulent. Nonetheless, most people, I am sure, will consider the change in the order of authors list more egregious than ommitting an asterisk.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Nonetheless, most people, I am sure, will consider the change in the order of authors list more egregious than omitting an asterisk.
    exactly. because they pay no attention whatsoever to the equal-contribution nonsense.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    ...the equal-contribution nonsense.
    I am with you on that. However, if two people do contribute equally to a published study (if it is possible), how one decides who's on first?

  • juniorprof says:

    ...the equal-contribution nonsense.
    I am with you on that. However, if two people do contribute equally to a published study (if it is possible), how one decides who's on first?

    I honestly cannot believe this discussion. I've worked on several projects where it was necessary, for a variety of reasons for two people to get together to get a project to go and see it to completion. They have all resulted in co-first authorship. How is that nonsense? Who lives in the alternative universe? I've been the second co-first on all of them because my name came later in the alphabet. I'm listed second on the CV with an asterisk by both names just like the publication. Any idiot can look at my CV and see that plain as day.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    how one decides who's on first?
    I had a modest proposal to deal with this problem for those that don't like the real answer*.
    __
    *the PI

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    It might be descriptively accurate that most people would consider changing the order to be the greater offense, but that is only because most people are intellectually lazy and/or insecure enough to be unable to understand the co-first author concept in 21st century science.*
    It is plausible to state that order-changing and asterisk-omission are equal offenses. It is also plausible to state that the latter is more egregious, because it actually violates both the letter and the spirit of the published record. However, I have not seen a coherent explanation of the alternative view.
    *And no, I have never been a co-first author, although I do accept the practice as a good one.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    For all the reasons listed in the comments to this post and due to the reality (including lazy readers), it is doubly important to agree as to the order of the authors on the authors list for a forthcoming paper at the start of the project. The investigators should continue to discuss changes in the agreed order if and when circumstances change. Moreover, it is customary in many labs, that the agreed upon first author also write the paper.

  • There are serious problems with using authorship order to signal allocation of credit in biomedical science, which are becoming worse and worse as biomedical science becomes more and more collaborative, interdisciplinary, and large-project based. These problems actually distort the conduct of science and impede progress. But co-first authorship is a *shitty* half-baked attempted cure for these problems that is worse than the disease.
    Other scientific discplines that have been doing big collaborative interdisciplinary science for much longer than the biomedical sciences have *not* arrived at co-first authorship as a means for allocating credit. There is a reason for this. Co-first authorship *sucks*, and trying to put band-aids on it and hack it into some semblance of fair application is doomed.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I think that as long as it is cited in pubmed in a particular order, that is the appropriate order. However, if a proposed standard for interchangability on CVs/biosketches only were adopted, I dont see a problem with it. The problem is that there is no standard.
    There oughta be a law dammit!
    Doc F

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Comrade PhysioProf -- It would be helpful if you support your assertion with some evidence or arguments, and it would be most helpful if you would outline a potential alternative.
    It is striking that in the last two days of leading this discussion you have not done so already, although you have seen fit to remind us how fast you can read and how elite your institution is.

  • James F says:

    First, tampering with the agreed-upon, published author order is academic misconduct, pure and simple.
    Second, it's virtually impossible for two people to have exactly equal contributions; in my experience, co-first authorship really means that authors 1 and 2 were the two who led the research within the lab, through a combination of experimental and intellectual input, but author 1 had a slight edge. It's a handy way to distinguish this situation from a project that was 70-90% the work of author 1 with a small but relevant assist from author 2.
    In other words, I'm with juniorprof, although I have to wonder how many groups are so indecisive that they have to go with alphabetical order or a coin toss. I've even seen both cases explicitly stated in the footnotes. How do these folks deal with "Paper or plastic?" or "Do you want fries with that?"

  • venk@ says:

    Who is one to decide whether a second listed 'co-first author' does or does not deserve first author-level credit?
    It totally depends on the case. CPP and others are free to be prejudiced towards the second listed fellows based on their experience, but prejudice doesn't equal good judgement.

  • niewiap says:

    Dave #15:
    Pubmed searches actually DO NOT ignore order. That is if you include [1au] tag after the name. What they DO ignore, however is co-first authorship. Try YourName[1au] and attempt to find your great co-first author Nature paper. NOOOOOT...

  • Dave says:

    That is cool, niewiap. I concede that Pubmed technically does not completely ignore author order, even if they are 'co first author'.
    -----------------
    Thanks CPP for making this thread. While I still don't agree that rearranging co-first author name order is misconduct, and would be willing to defend the practice, it's obvious that many people seem to view it as inappropriate or worse. In which case my advice that it's OK to do so is clearly bad advice.
    In the mean time, I am going to send an email to ORI directing them to this thread and see if they'll weigh in with an opinion.

  • qaz says:

    I'm with Dr. Isis on this one. If you're all-worried about one co-author paper, you've got bigger problems.
    That being said, what's really unfair is this concept that with co-first-authorship one uses alphabetical order. If co-first-authorship is really equal, one should flip a coin. (On the other hand, the few cases where I've known the circumstances leading to co-first-authorship, it really means 60%/40% rather than 90%/10% as first/second author does.) If one has a lot of co-first-author papers with truly equal contribution, a coin-flip will work out in the wash. If one has only one co-author paper, then it'll be fine. Relax already.
    Also, on a CV, you can put whatever additional text you want. So why can't you list your papers in three categories. FIRST-AUTHOR, CO-FIRST-AUTHOR, MIDDLE-AUTHOR or whatever else you want. But changing author order is definitely a mistake. Even if you think it's ethical, you might well run into a grant reviewer or hiring committee who feels it's unethical and you'd be totally screwed. Remember, you don't get to defend yourself to these people.
    And Sol -- deciding authorship before the project is crap. I don't know what's going to produce publishable answers before a project happens. Fundamentally, these things need to be benevolent dictatorships run by the PI. When the post-doc gets to be PI, it will be their turn.

  • CC says:

    I have never heard of switching co-first authors, would regard doing so as fraud and would automatically dismiss any job applicant who did it. (And if that paper is so important to your overall case, you can bet I'm going to read it and bet I'll notice the difference!) It wouldn't surprise me if a corporate HR department would fire you years after hiring (as they do for over- or understating degrees) in the unlikely case that they noticed it.
    There seem to be fields where this is considered acceptable practice -- I'd emphasize to people in those that they're courting a ton of trouble if that CV winds up in the hands of someone with a different sensibility.
    What *is* acceptable IME is appending a "co-first author" to the reference.

  • Dave says:

    What *is* acceptable IME is appending a "co-first author" to the reference.
    "Acceptable"? It's REQUIRED. I am still shocked that some people here don't seem to think it is totally unacceptable outright blatant misleading fraud for a co-first author to omit or hide in any way a notation that first authorship is shared.
    If I am co-first author, listed first, and 'forget' to note the joint first authorship, I have stolen credit from my co-first author. It's plagiarism. Or something like that. Whatever; it's totally different from rearranging names of equivalent 'rank', which is intended merely to correct possible oversights but not hurt anyone.

  • disagree says:

    Dave, if you look at Pubmed, the asterisks will not show up. If you do switch the order of the first co-authors, it will not match the reference. There is a difference. I agree it is not fair but it is not AS bad as switching the order of the authorships around.

  • Dave says:

    To 'disagree': See my posts above. But ultimately, try this: Type...
    Falit Gross
    into Pubmed. You get a paper.
    Then type...
    Gross Falit
    You get the same paper. Maybe others here search differently. Regardless, I already conceded the point. I just didn't want people to think I didn't have a reason for what I said.
    (Don't try to read anything into my choice of paper. Falit & Gross came up when I searched Pubmed for 'DrugMonkey'. I chose their paper over other results because the sames were short and easy to type.)

  • Dave says:

    Reply from the Office of Research Integrity...
    As I promised in #47, I sent an email to the Office of Research Integrity (ORI; http://ori.dhhs.gov/). I am astounded to have gotten a reply already. Ordinarily I wouldn't post the guy's info, but the speed of his reply on a holiday deserves kudos, in my opinion.
    [My name],
    I agree that the issue raises an interesting question, but I don't believe it is particularly related to likely research misconduct. Personally, I would favor the flexibility of alternate listing given the circumstances, despite the obvious implications for libraries, historians, and so forth. From the perspective of ORI, although credentials concerns occasionally arise, we tend not to deal with them as misconduct matters unless they were sufficient to possibly/likely impact funding decisions for grant applications. When we receive allegations directly that include such concerns we usually refer them to the RIO at the institutions, as they are usually of concern to Promotion and Tenure committees, for example.
    Sincerely, John
    John Dahlberg, Ph.D. (for real)
    Director, Division of Investigative Oversight
    Office of Research Integrity

    -------------
    [Here was my original email sent to ORI]
    Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 9:48 AM
    To: OS OPHS askORI (HHS/OPHS)
    Subject: Joint first authorship and name order
    Hello,
    I know ORI does not usually get involved in authorship disputes, but an interesting discussion has arisen here:
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/12/altering-listed-order-of-cofirst-authors-on-cv-totally-cool-or-falsification
    Basically, the issue is whether it is acceptable to re-arrange the order of names (on a CV or grant application biosketch, for example) if -- and only if -- authors are listed in the original publication as having 'contributed equally'.
    For example, let's say a paper is published like this:
    Jones*, Smith*, and Ghandi. (*These two authors contributed equally)
    Is it OK for Smith to write the following on his/her CV or biosketch?
    Smith*, Jones*, and Ghandi (*These two authors contributed equally)
    The reason being, of course, that many people tend to overlook joint first authorship annotations. There is no attempt to mislead, because Smith is really a joint first author (and is merely emphasizing the fact). Or is this a corruption of the official published record?
    What do you think?
    Thanks for the advice/input! Happy holidays,
    [My name & contact info]

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Wow, that is truly awesome Dave. I wonder if NCBI would be interested in considering this vis-a-vis PubMed.

  • noob says:

    Isn't this a moot point? A real first author should never stoop to rearrange the order of the authors to say he/she was truly a first author. Because said person would have other papers in which he/she was a first-listed first author. I am considering this horse to be dead and beaten.

  • the geez says:

    we tend not to deal with them as misconduct matters unless they were sufficient to possibly/likely impact funding decisions for grant applications.
    BWAHAHAH. It all comes down to money, doesn't it.

  • drdrA says:

    I'm with Juniorprof #37 on this one. Sometimes this is just unavoidable when two labs have different expertise and members of both contributed equally. But then I've both benefited and suffered from the co-authorship thing.
    No switching name order on CVs- I hate that idea. and No omitting the asterix if you are the first listed of the co-firsts. Omission is also a lie.

  • juniorprof says:

    Isn't this a moot point? A real first author should never stoop to rearrange the order of the authors to say he/she was truly a first author. Because said person would have other papers in which he/she was a first-listed first author. I am considering this horse to be dead and beaten.
    WTF?!?!?!?
    DrdrA and I agree again, we should form a political party!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    When we receive allegations directly that include such concerns we usually refer them to the RIO at the institutions, as they are usually of concern to Promotion and Tenure committees, for example.
    What a crock of crap! The ORI will wash its hands from any case, no matter how egregious it is, if they could. Sending it to the RIO of the institution guarantees inaction on the issue. I blew the whistle on a neuroscience prof for listing in a NIH grant proposal a position he claimed he was still holding at the NIH, although he was relieved from this duty years earlier. To the investigating committee at his institution he explained that it was an oversight on his part and was forgiven, despite the fact that he did it on additional grant proposals and on his CV, which he paraded every time promotion season came around or 5-year performance review. In another case of misconduct that I am privvy to, a palgiarism was committed, not just of text, but of preliminary results from NIH grant proposals under review by the culprit. It was brought to the ORI attention. The ORI dismiss the case, but the institution committee (Wash. Univ., St. Louis, MO) recommended to fire the a-hole. He was eventually fired only to be hired by his previous chairman at Wash. Univ., who landed a job in another institution.
    The ORI is the last organization within the NIH I would trust to police misconduct in science.

  • blatnoi says:

    Like I said before, all the second, etc... authors will have their names listed normally, and all the first authors will have their names running in a continuous box around the first page of the manuscript that starts at a random letter on the top left side of the page. Then, when you search the article, you'll see a list of authors, and the two first authors will have a little box sign instead of an asterisk on the top of their names.
    Then on your CV you can list yourself first too, but put a little box at the top of your name, and all the lazy square thinkers like CPP will know what it means.

  • bill says:

    Other scientific discplines that have been doing big collaborative interdisciplinary science for much longer than the biomedical sciences have *not* arrived at co-first authorship as a means for allocating credit.
    What do they do instead?

  • dido says:

    There is one thing nobody discussed here: the fact that being single first author actually means more contribution that being first author listed with one co-first author. I think that the credit of the first author should be somehow divided by 2 when a co-first author is present. Otherwise, if the 2 co-first authors get full credit, this would mean that one paper with 2 co-first authors has the same "value" than 2 papers with each of those authors as first author ! This is complete nonsense.

  • dido says:

    I would be very glad if some of you would be willing to comment on my last comment (even if more than 3 months after the end of the discussion... 😉

  • whimple says:

    Since you asked, you don't have to worry about it. Nobody gives the second author first author credit, and all the little asterisks and superscripts instructing people to do otherwise are just totally ignored.

  • dido says:

    OK, but still as in a CV it is easy to emphasize the equal contribution if you are second, I think that there remains some global benefit if two authors alternate first position while keeping the "equal contribution", in comparison with the situation where "equal contribution" is absent. And I think common sense would tell us that this is absurd. This is why I think that even if the "equal contribution" is not reflected by equal credit, there should be a scoring system, such as the following:
    - 1st author and second without "equal contribution": 80% and 15% of the credit, 5% for remaining authors
    - 1st author and second with "equal contribution: 55% and 40% of the credit, 5% for remaining authors
    Of course this sounds very picky and sophisticated to calculate credit, however does that not sound more reasonable than consider both as first authors or forget about the "equal contribution" ??

  • whimple says:

    The honest truth of the matter is that nobody other than the first and second authors cares who the first and second authors are. The people that count only care about who the last author is, so there's not really much motivation to more precisely grade the contributions of people on the author line that don't really count anyway (everyone except the last author). The usual field-specific disclaimers apply.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What whimple said. Look, dido, it would be nice if these crediting structures were fair and the reality of contribution could be reliably conveyed to the casual reader. As things stand at present, this does not happen.
    We could either change that (a daunting task) or trainees could stop being bought off by meaningless symbolic honors.

  • Nat says:

    We could either change that (a daunting task) or trainees could stop being bought off by meaningless symbolic honors.

    Isn't this blaming the victim?

  • The people that count only care about who the last author is

    This is completely untrue in the case of post-docs/grad-students looking for jobs as faulty/post-docs, where the people that count care about first authorship.

  • antipodean says:

    Whimple does have a point though CPP.
    I'm first author on quite a few papers - but I am a postdoc, so I haven't been around that long. Other scientists have sometimes discussed with me a paper my boss has last authored. They look at me quizzically when I point out I was the first author and actually wrote the thing.
    Name recognition counts informally. First authorship counts for getting a job though I would agree.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Nat: yeah, you have a point. Hmm.

  • dido says:

    I agree with Physioprof, it counts for young scientists looking for a position. There are many institutions looking at "cumulative impact factor" to score the level of the different candidates. Of course this is not the only way to score them, but even if this system is unfair, there is no reason for making it even more unfair by biasing the credit which should be accorded to each author, which - in my view - changes according to the number of first authors. And I think the effort of making some attempts to allocate credit the fairest possible way is just common sense when it takes 2 minutes to do it and when a position is at stake !

  • Of course this sounds very picky and sophisticated to calculate credit, however does that not sound more reasonable than consider both as first authors or forget about the "equal contribution" ??

    We have already discussed this. In the biomedical sciences, no one pays any attention to "equal contribution" or "co-first author". Those kinds of attributions are political mechanisms to salve the egos of non-first authors and get them to go along with not being first author. The only "first-author" that counts as a first-author is the author who is *listed* first. Period.
    All this percent contribution crap is way more effort than is merited, both on the part of authors to allocate the percentages and on the part of readers if they were to pay attention to it. It'll just be ignored, the same way "equal contribution" or "co-first author" is ignored.
    As an analogy, you know the little lists that some journals print where they say what the "actual contribution" of each author is? "Designed experiments, analyzed data, performed experiments, wrote manuscript, etc"? No one looks at that fucking crap, because no one gives a fuck.
    People are lazy and seek quick and easy ways of assessing scientific credit, productivity, and the ability to take responsibility for and lead a project. First authorship is a way to do this in the case of graduate students and post-docs. There is no incentive for making this more complicated.

  • whimple says:

    PP: I totally agree.
    Further, grad students and post-docs that want to be assured of first-author listing should either get their own project, or be certain that a shared effort project is big enough to yield two papers.

  • Nat says:

    Further, grad students and post-docs that want to be assured of first-author listing should either get their own project, or be certain that a shared effort project is big enough to yield two papers.

    So, you're assuming that the person on the lower end of the power disparity will be able to force the person on the greater end to agree to this? Such that if they fail to do so, it's all their fault?
    And you think that most PIs will agree to split a project into two J Neurosci level papers rather than 1 Nature/Nat. Neurosci/Neuron level papers that has an assload of supplementary data? Especially when the PI arguably accrues greater credit from the second approach?
    Now, I might fight tooth and nail for that, but 2 things: I'm an ornery bastard, and I'm just arrogant/self-assured enough to think I'd just take my brains and hands elsewhere.
    But I think this is too much to expect from many post-docs. Especially ones who might have implicit threats of visa revocation hanging over them.

  • Erik says:

    I noticed that many posters here seem to assume that the author list is an accurate and faithful representation of the effort put into paper. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Labs constantly omit technicians, pre-docs, etc. from authorship on major papers, and we all know that they frequently contribute the most sweat to the project. Ultimately, the PI is the one who decides the author list and order, because it was his lab and his money that made it all possible. If you have not chosen your PI well, you are likely to get screwed. If you have not discussed your career goals and how each and every one of your projects/papers will move you towards that goal, you are doing yourself a disservice. Randomly contributing large amounts of time to projects that you yourself do not initiate is essentially asking to be a professional bridesmaid/groomsman -- you will never be a first or last author.

  • I noticed that many posters here seem to assume that the author list is an accurate and faithful representation of the effort put into paper. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Regardless of the extent to which this is, indeed, the case, it is wholly irrelevant to the question whether it is ethical to alter the order of co-first authors on one's CV.

  • Erin says:

    If you are co-first author of a publication, and it clearly states that both authors contributed equally, it should not matter if you switch your name on your CV. theoretically you are first author.

  • Boehninglab says:

    I had a colleague who had a habit of doing this, raising many eyebrows with our faculty. Later, he had high profile Science, PNAS, and Nature retractions. Coincidence? I would not hire someone in my lab who did this.

  • [...] once a paper has been published, regardless of the circumstances. For additional comments, see this post and the associated comments on the Drug Monkey [...]

  • dodo says:

    The concept of co-first authorship states that two authors would have contributed equally to the work. EQUALLY. If A= B consequently it does not matter if A,B or B,A. Those who argue against author switching have no case and either never had co-authored papers or are the "first" co-authors in a paper. There is absolutely no difference of how the first authors should be written as long as they really are co-authors. I completely tolerate and do not discourage this practice.

  • I completely tolerate and do not discourage this practice.

    If you are advising trainees that it is ok to alter the listed author order in their CVs from that which occurs in the published paper, you are doing them a dreadful disservice and committing mentoring malplractice. This is because there are many, many people who rightfully view this as falsification and a bogus claim of scientific credit.

  • drugmonkey says:

    CPP is correct on everything except the "rightfully" part. It is a shame and an embarrassment that anyone can tolerate this practice (as PI, author, AE or reviewer) and then act as if the co-equal claim is meaningless.

    I expect that all of you who share his view refrain from giving any aid or comfort to this scurrilous practice.

  • Jondice says:

    Aside from CVs, I wonder about submitting a presentation to a conference that is also based on a publication that is in the pipeline where you know you will be the second listed co-first author. Sometimes you cannot present the work, or apply for presentation awards (not a big deal, I know) unless you are listed as the first author, but changing your name to first author where their abstract submission system doesn't explicitly support co-first authors. So in this case, I hardly see the issue with rearranging the names, as long as you note in the presentation that you are in fact a co-first author, especially since you are the one performing the presentation.

    I doubt anyone will be able to change my views of this ethically, since I think it is far less misleading than order switching (with appropriate notation) on a CV for the actual published work, but I would be interested in hearing others' opinions.

  • Proneural says:

    ... sigh ...

    If being co-first author really means what it is supposed to mean, then switching the order in a citation shouldn't be a big deal, as the two versions are logically equivalent.

    The question is, which is more important, Pubmed search and citation *accuracy*, or proper attribution of contribution? Given the general bias to only consider the first person on an author list, I'll take the latter. IMO, it is totally fair for the second co-first author to switch, so that they aren't railroaded into submission, so to speak.

    Personally, I am going through this right now, on a paper going to a Cell/Nature/Science type journal. It sucks. And despite the fact that I created the project, pushed various avenues of investigation that led to the main conclusions of the paper, generated much of the data, etc. it remains the fact that I was a grad student when the project started, and I didn't have the same political influence of the post-doc first co-first author.

    All that being said, I probably won't switch the order on my CV, as it risks being thrown out by people who have different, strong opinions regarding citation *accuracy*. Not worth the risk. Wish it was otherwise.

  • physioprof says:

    All that being said, I probably won't switch the order on my CV, as it risks being thrown out by people who have different, strong opinions regarding citation *accuracy*.

    It is only a few crackpots who think it is ok to falsify a citation on your CV in the interests of "proper attribution of contribution". The overwhelmingly vast majority of people who will be judging your CV will look very poorly upon falsifying the bibliographic record.

  • jmz4 says:

    @Proneural
    This came up in a RCR course recently, and PP is right, I'd say only about 20% of people were okay with switching the order and there were some people vehemently opposed.

    Asterisk to indicate you are co-first authors in your biosketch and CV. I've started doing this, and they had no problems with it on my recent grant apps.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The "crackpots" are in the right. It is no coincidence that the same majority of jerks that PP refers to are the precise people who benefit from keeping this "co-equal" buyoff scheme going.

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