The discussion following one of PhysioProf's posts on scientific authorship got long and discursive, bringing in a whole host of interesting issues. Many cover tired old ground, some are novel and fascinating and some seem tired and old but may have a little bit of life.
beets advanced a familiar complaint of trainees who, having worked their beets off to get on authorship lines see some senior investigator pal of their PI listed for no apparent work.
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.
In response, Professor in Training sighed:
Are we REALLY going to get into these arguments again? They have already been covered ad nauseum
I picked up on the part in the complaint about "share the grant that funded the work". As we all know, science is becoming increasingly collaborative and the funding is following this pattern as well. As it should. Nevertheless, collaborative multiple lab, multiple PI efforts have been with us for a long time in the form of the familiar Program Project (P01) and Center mechanisms. There are many other collaborative grants, of course, starting from the most prosaic R01 which includes more than one professorial level investigator at a single institute.
Now scientifically, the question of what constitutes a "contribution" has been covered before by PhysioProf. The idea that creating the environment, physical resources and intellectual milieu without which a given paper could not have happened does not deserve author credit is a silly conceit of people who have not thought very deeply about what it takes for them to work on their narrow little projects. A somewhat specific point has to do with my usual area of interest, the grant game.
When review panels evaluate multiple investigator applications, one of the things that they look for is evidence that the PIs in question have actually worked together in a meaningful way. You can argue whether this should be the case or not but just think of it as you think of preliminary data. The best evidence, of course, is co-authored peer reviewed publications, preferably on topics related to the new grant proposal. If the grant has been previously funded and the panel is facing a competing renewal application, the requirement for co-publication gets even greater. It definitely qualifies as a StockCritique: "No evidence the PIs have previously collaborated" / "The co-authored publications clearly establish the strength of the collaborative efforts".
This is one reason why you may see PIs who collaborate on related projects going apparently out of their way to include each other on publications, even when the effort on a given project may be rather hard to nail down to generating a specific figure or conducting an analysis. We could argue specific contributions and the line for where it is ethical / unethical to include a given author until the cows come home, so this is not really my point. It is to explain to those who may not have thought about it why the PIs in question are motivated to put each other on their papers. It may have very little to do with glad handing one's buddies to the supposed* detriment of one's trainees and everything to do with grantsmanship.
And getting the grant funded is good for everyone in the lab.
*I'm still interested in cogent arguments about how extra authors in the middle hurts the more meaningful first author / senior author contributors. After about three it just doesn't matter. This idea of credit dilution or whatever doesn't make sense to me.