Courtesy Authorships for Collaborative Grant Efforts

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.

30 responses so far

  • Dude, I think you are not accurately representing what PiT was complaining about. Here is her complete comment:

    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.

    I think she was more disgusted with the "my PI doesn't do anything" whine than the "honorary non-PI authorship" whine.

  • Dave says:

    Many journals and institutions have guidelines that cover this. I have yet to see any that are particularly useful. Most are too vague to be truly helpful in decision-making, and I think more reflect a desire to have some sort of 'guideline' in place rather than actually offer true practical advice. At best, these 'guidelines' might be useful for some disgruntled postdoc or grad student to wave around in a desperate career-killing effort to kick an honorary author or two off their opus.
    I like my personal criteria best -- every author needs to be able to point to some previously unpublished thing in the paper that they can take primary responsibility for introducing to the world. The 'thing' could be a reagent or technique or set of data or analysis or significant conclusion or description.
    That said, I ultimately agree with DM that it's not worth getting too bent out of shape about honorary authorship. My grad PI didn't contribute anything experimentally and almost nothing intellectually. So he didn't actually meet my current criteria for authorship. But in hiring me and getting funding he created conditions resulting in papers just as much as the tech who made the transgenes (and also got authorship). So I was fine with it. It didn't hurt me any. Maybe I was mentally prepped for authorship generosity because before that I worked in a lab with three PIs, and their names were on every paper regardless of contribution, mainly to help with future funding. And before that I worked on a project for EPA where the director of the sub-organization overseeing the extramural work got authorship on my papers, and I'm not sure he even ever read them. It was also common in the field at the time for the PI of a lab that cloned something to get authorship on every paper from another lab that used that clone, even if the clone had been already been described ad nauseum in print multiple times. Could I have argued these guys didn't all deserve authorship? Sure. But it would have just pissed people off and got me nowhere.
    In another thread someone asked me how I managed to be moderately successful (and success is all relative) despite a bad postdoc experience. As I mentioned there, I think it helps to avoid needlessly raising a stink over things that ultimately will never matter. That doesn't mean you should be a spineless kowtowing turdworm; you can adhere to principles. But keep the big picture in mind. If someone potentially important to your future asks to be an author on your paper, curse them silently all you want. But put their name on. Probably many others in the field have had the same thing happen to them and will know to disregard the name when they see your paper anyway.

  • JD says:

    "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."
    I often find that the real issue is trying to hold the number of authors on a particular project to 2 or 3 is where this comes up for me. It is true that, when there are already seven authors, the incremental loss of credit for adding an additional author is very, very small. But with small and tight projects it can be very useful to have a few papers with few authors and here is where I consider trying to "repel boarders".
    This is much more common when the point of the paper is a statistical method and not the use of data to reach a substantive conclusion.

  • leigh says:

    i fully anticipate including my PI as well as our two regular collaborators on papers. the three of them have made my graduate training POSSIBLE via funding. yes, i contributed to the new r01 submission and i was happy to do so. we have spent hours gathered around a table discussing, debating, creating new ideas. yes, i did all the bench work myself. that's my fucking job, i'm a graduate student.
    sure, my PI is my main go-to person. but the other two have contributed intellectually to the line of inquiry. i have the good fortune of being extremely involved in the group and seeing how the dynamics work. maybe others in collaborative groups aren't as fortunate?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Like many of us, my papers list honorary authors, especially on papers I published during my postdoc years, when I had no voice, and a few later on in my career, when "funding authorship" was at play. My institution discourage and actually forbid honorary authorship, though that policy has never been enforced. My objection to honorary authorship have grew stronger over the years, especially as my collaborative projects began to encompass greater numbers of experts and expertises. Thus, many of my publications list 4 or 5 co-authors, each with substential contribution to the manuscript. When one adds two or three honorary authors to the list the real contribution of those who really worked on the project and their recognition are greatly diluted. While the real members of the field of interest do know to distinguish between the real and the honorary authors, this is not the case outside the field.
    For me, even more importantly, honorary authorship, unless it is specifically identifiable as such in the publication, approaches fraud.

  • Dude, I think you are not accurately representing what PiT was complaining about ... I think she was more disgusted with the "my PI doesn't do anything" whine than the "honorary non-PI authorship" whine.
    Spot on. Thanks.

  • Dave says:

    Jeeeeeezus, I hate this blog. Sometimes it actually makes me reevaluate my attitudes. It has done so again.
    Above, I waffled on about how I thought it was generally OK to include honorary authors to keep everyone happy.
    And then Sol said: "For me, even more importantly, honorary authorship, unless it is specifically identifiable as such in the publication, approaches fraud."
    Which reminded me of how, in the earlier thread, I harped on about how NOT including an asterisk noting co-first authorship was tantamount to stealing credit from a co-author.
    Which made me re-evaluate my opinion in this thread.
    What I didn't consider fully was what Sol pointed out: Honorary authorship sort of 'steals' some of the total credit from people who actually contributed. The honorary authors may not have stolen much, depending on their reputation and the number of authors already on the paper, but nonetheless in claiming some credit, honorary authors diminish ever so slightly what the people who really bore the burden have done.
    So I guess it's good to (in the words of JD) "repel boarders". But I guess that effort must be weighed against the potential harm of offending people.
    I still like my criteria for authorship, but I guess I am more likely now to enforce them when necessary.

  • whimple says:

    Other than the data figures (and sometime including the data figures), the entirety of a scientific paper is an opinion piece, specifically the opinion of the very last author on the author line: in short, it's all crap. Who cares what the authorship line looks like? The authorship line is just as arbitrary as the rest of the text, so the author line doesn't make any factual difference.
    I mean, really. 🙂

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    My view is authorship is free. Heres how it works for me and my colleagues who are a total of a 4 PI collaborative research team:
    If I can get someone to do something (however small) I am usually glad to give them an authorship. I am usually more generous with grads and postdocs. Example: "Will you spend 15 minutes feeding my cells on sunday for the next 2 weeks since your here already doing your own work? I will give you an authorship for it." I always get a yes for that shit. Piece of cake, and I get to be at home relaxing and doing whatever increases the quality of my life and my family, etc.
    PIs in the labs do not get courtesy authorships. However, the bar is set low. But it must be real work. No "I read your paper and offered copy editing". We all help each other on mass surgery days, or embryonic tissue harvesting. Those require many hours of technical skills and we all get credit on papers, even if we didnt know what the study was until later.
    I cant recall a grad postdoc or a PI who felt slighted on authorship in our group.
    My view is, no courtesy authorships but dont be a cheapskate. Its free, and if they do a little bit, a very little bit, you will find yourself on their papers for a modest bit of effort.
    I had a BIG NAME collaborator from Harvard who didnt do shit on a paper. My student went to postdoc with him and since he gave editing advice to my student, he wanted on the paper. I told him politely to fuck off. He went a lil apeshit, and my old student sided with his new employer out of fear. It has been a little rocky since then, but hey, hes a douchebag.
    Doc F

  • Alex says:

    A co-PI on a grant is not an honorary author--that person was critical to making the project happen.
    However, I've seen honorary authors who didn't do anything other than show up after all the work was done and a first draft was already written and say "Yeah, great idea. Let's collaborate on the next step." And then that person gets added to the author list. I've seen honorary authors who helped with a piece of equipment for one project and as payment got listed on a paper for another project (on a very, very different system studied with very different methods), because the paper on the other project was closer to publication and the person needed to be paid sooner rather than later.
    I was somewhere in the middle of the author list on these papers, so I wasn't in a lead role on the project and didn't feel qualified to lead any fights over who did what. More importantly, I was not in a situation where I felt like I could safely challenge anyone alone. So I shut my mouth. But I did take notes for my "What not to do" file.

  • So what's the general opinion on program directors (PD) of big-ass PPG or center grants whose names appear on each and every single paper that comes off Mega Grant? Just wondering as these grants are often individual R01-wannabes that are tied together under a common theme and offshoots of individual projects within Mega Grant typically elicit non-theme related studies. How much of this authorship is considered to be "the PD contributed to providing the grant for this study" compared to "this work is completely outside PD's area but let's keep him/her happy by providing a courtesy authorship"?

  • The paper I just sent off from GradLab, and the next paper I plan to send off from PostdocLab, both have an honorary co-author. Why? Transgenic mice. Yes, we all know that once they're published they're supposed to be "freely available."
    We also all know that this rule is frequently ignored. The people who are most likely to ignore it, in my experience, are junior PIs with small labs for whom the cost of mouse production is just too high not to demand co-authorship on papers resulting from giving their mice away. I understand this. But still, where does it end? When does the mouse become "ours" so that we can leave off the co-author? By the second paper? The third? And after the first paper, what if someone asks us for the mouse? It's just so weird.

  • If an individual is crucial to securing the funding, establishing a line of questioning, and creating the environment that makes research possible I don't see how the authorship is "honorary." Is an individual student always privy to the discussions that may have taken place between a PI and his collaborators that may have led the PI to offer certain advice?
    If you're concerned about why someone is being added to a paper, then ask and investigate. It is naive, however, to assume that, just because someone doesn't stand at the bench with you and run gels with you or whatever it is you're doing, that they played no role in the execution of a project.

  • James F says:

    Dr. Feelgood @9 wrote:

    If I can get someone to do something (however small) I am usually glad to give them an authorship. I am usually more generous with grads and postdocs. Example: "Will you spend 15 minutes feeding my cells on sunday for the next 2 weeks since your here already doing your own work? I will give you an authorship for it." I always get a yes for that shit. Piece of cake, and I get to be at home relaxing and doing whatever increases the quality of my life and my family, etc.

    Authorship for feeding cells? I'd be embarrassed to expect more than a "thank you" for that. If you don't mind my asking, how do the other authors feel about that? Do you think your trainees will expect authorship for similarly minor tasks in the future?

  • beets says:

    Wow I didn't know my previous comment on the other thread (which I was berated for, for being off-topic) sparked its own thread.
    When I was in grad school I thought nothing of the practice of making co-PIs automatic honorary authors, since I was told that is the way things are done. It wasn't until I did my postdoc, where the culture was opposite, that I questioned this practice. In my postdoc lab honorary authorship was frowned upon, even if the would-be honorary authors were co-PIs on the grant funding the work. Why?
    Because - in my postdoc lab - being a co-PI on a grant implies that you are going to stay actively involved with the work you helped to get funded and thereby your inclusion as an author is real and not honorary. if on a certain paper you didn't contribute significantly intellectually, then you would not be made an honorary author, instead you are listed in the acknowledgments for having provided lab space or resources.
    But this is not the case in my grad school lab. There, the co-PIs were senior professors who helped get the grant funded. but once the project was funded, they basically "disappeared" in mind and spirit. They allowed students to use their lab space and money, but that was it. They did not stay intellectually involved or even interested in the project they helped fund. they weren't even interested to see drafts of papers that had their names on it, I doubt they even read the papers after they were published too. (This still surprises me because wouldn't they NOT want their names to be on a paper if it is a crap paper? Or did they assume the PI would do the quality-control?)...when the years go by and the work takes on new directions of which they were definitely not involved in and aren't even aware of, should they still continue to be in the author list?
    IMO at this point, they are not scientists on this project anymore by any stretch of the imagination, they are strictly resource-providers like the grant program officer or your department chair. Do you list your program officer or department chair as a co-author?
    I think ONE honorary author is not a big deal and can even help you. But when # of honorary authors is greater than or equal to # of "real" authors, then I think it does dilute the scholarship of the "real" authors. And dilution does matter when you are being evaluated as an individual for hiring/promotion/funding based on your publication record....how can it not make a difference if you are first-author on a bunch of 3-author papers, versus a first author on a bunch of 7-author papers IF they are the exact same papers? In the latter case (extra authors), hiring/promotion/funding committees will either think you are really good at managing a team of people (which works in your favor), or they may think you had a LOT of help and thereby you only did marginally more work than the other 6 authors (which hurts your evaluation), or they may be decidedly unimpressed that it appears to have taken 7 people to produce whatever amount of work is reported in the papers. (because in actual fact the scope of the paper is from 3 people's efforts).
    (not making it up - this actually happened to a colleague of mine from grad school who had more honorary authors than 'real' authors on ALL his papers. A hiring committee who was very familiar with the field, remarked that with so many people supposedly actively working on the project you would expect it to be further along than it is...)
    IF the practice of honorary authorship was a universal rule and practiced everywhere, then it wouldn't be a problem because everyone knows it for what it is. But because in some places (like in my postdoc institution for example) it is still assumed that everyone in the author list is a "real" author, then that is where the dilution can hurt you during formal evaluations.

  • pinus says:

    I think a distinction has to be drawn between 'honorary' authors, and 'contributing' authors. For example, if somebody is paying for everything, I think that they are contributing....maybe they don't come in and run a western, but at some point they had to have their shit together to get the money and the space for you to do this work. Or am I totally off base here? I have to admit, I really didn't have to deal with this in grad school or as a post-doc.
    One thing, however, that I did have to deal with is co authorship with other people in the lab.
    In grad school, my PI had a senior post-doc who trained people in 'complicated technique X'. The post-doc would be responsible for the day to day troubleshooting, questions and the such for the trainee, whereas the PI would be there more for the Big picture, experimental design (the senior postdoc would participate in these as well). At some point the senior post doc would run a few experiments to double check a key finding. When these findings would go to paper, senior post-doc would be a co-author.
    However, for my post-doc lab, the PI does not do this. People are expected to contribute to all of the same things with no 'authorship' resulting. I think that this lack of reinforcement for training new people results in shoddier training...and over time, I believe that this will lead to reduced productivity.
    I was hoping that people could share their opinions on this topic, as I am thinking of exactly how I would run my lab with regards to training and 'co-authorship'.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    beets (#15) raised an important point:
    "...wouldn't they NOT want their names to be on a paper if it is a crap paper?"
    beets questioned the integrity of those honorary authors who contributed nothing to the published paper and whether or not they care about the quality of the paper.
    One should read this question as a rhetoric one since any "author" who accept his/her name being included on a paper for doing nothing has no integrity. Moreover, such "author" is a fraud.
    Personally, I had several experiences in my career that helped me shape my stance on the issue of honorary authorship:
    1. After performing a research project with a neurosurgeon in my lab, where it was agreed that he will be involved in it daily during the experimental phase and also write the manuscript once the project is done, I received a copy of said manuscript after it was already submitted for publication. After reading it I discovered not only that it included data of experiments that were never performed, but that the person who "performed" those experiments was included as an author on the manuscript. I approached the neurosurgeon and demanded that he will withdraw the manuscript, make the necessary corrections and revisions that I pointed on the copy I received and that he also completely omit the section of the imaginary experiments and the author who "performed" them. He bacame very angry and told me that the manuscript will not be withdrawn and none of my suggested corrections will be made. I contacted the editor of the journal to which the paper was submitted and detailed to him all the problems I had with the manuscript and that it should be return to the corresponding author for the necessary corrections. The editor replied that the paper was already reviewed and accepted for publication. In response I asked him to remove my name from the paper, indicating that I cannot afford to be an author of a paper that includes falcified data and other authors who did not ontribute to the study. The editor responded that he would honor my request and remove my name. To my great relief, that paper was never published and I concluded that the editor came back to his senses. I may add that said neurosurgeon is a big name in his field and was the president of the most important association of neurosurgeons in America.
    2. A colleague asked me to read a grant proposal he was working on and to provide him with critique and some experimental suggestions. I added a possible experimental section to the proposal, which I thought would strengthen it and its chances to be funded. In its final draft, the colleague decided not to include my suggested experiments, but left my name on the proposal as one of the co-investigators. I adamantly demanded that my name will be taken out from said proposal. Ironically, the proposal was approved and funded, but two years later the research was abruptly suspended and the PI was fired from the university. Eventually, said project was based on preliminary results that were a complete fake.
    3. After reading a paper published by a group from neirgboring institution, in which a nockout mouse was used, I contacted them by phone to find out if they could spare some mice for my own experimental use. The response was very enthusiastic from that group. They were willing to send me all the mice they had already used in their behavioral studies for my use in electorphysiological experiments. My only expense was paying for the shipping of said mice. I offered an authorship on the abstracts and a paper that were resulted from the study to the creator of the nockout mouse and the investigator with whom I pesonally dealt during the experimental period. They both gracefully rejected my offer saying that their help and contributions do not justify such honor and instead suggeted that acknowledgment of their assistance would suffice.

  • Jill says:

    Isis the scientist @#13: It is naive, however, to assume that, just because someone doesn't stand at the bench with you and run gels with you or whatever it is you're doing, that they played no role in the execution of a project.
    I think the issue raised is, what if that individual definitely played a role in securing the startup funds for the project, but then played no role in the subsequent execution of the project for the remainder of the life of the project. I don't think that the initial and finite involvement in the project (securing funding) qualifies one to be automatically named an author on ALL the resulting papers for the next 5 years or however long the project lasts. The first couple of papers, maybe. But if that individual continues to cease being involved in the execution of the project, then like beets @#15 said, that person is now a resource provider like a program officer, not an actual scholar or investigator. Thus, the appropriate place to record that individual's contribution to the scholarly work reported, is in the acknowledgments section. (and the acknowledgment can be however profuse you want it to be).
    I also think it's inappropriate to be an author on a paper for some tedious, routine and minute contribution. In other words. Again, that is what the acknoweldgments section is for. To use authorship as a bribe to get students or postdocs to perform small menial tasks further dilutes the rigor of authorship requirements.
    When I was in grad school I designed and constructed a piece of equipment that became central to our lab and was then heavily utilized by many of the other students' thesis projects. This equipment that I designed and built, altered and made possible a lot of the lab's projects not just my own. The PI got more grant proposals funded because now our lab had this capability we didn't have before so it widened the scope of our research. I also trained the other students in how to use this equipment so they could then use it in their research. I also did the regular maintenance and upgrades to the equipment and helped other students troubleshoot their problems with using it.
    According to some here, I should therefore have been made an author on ALL the other students' papers that ever utilized that piece of equipment. Not only did that not happen (and I'm not complaining because I agree that I shouldn't be an author on someone else's paper just for this), but most of the time I wasn't even in the acknowledgment section. I think one student acknowledged my help in their thesis.

  • HI says:

    Yes, I agree that providing the grant is an important contribution that deserves an authorship. And yes, I understand why the PI is motivated to list other PIs as co-authors to get better reviews for the collaborative grant. But, as DrugMonkey also acknowledges, whether this is ethical is arguable.
    Suppose the PI in question has his/her own grant in addition to the collaborative grant with other PIs, as it is usually the case.
    1. How can you make a case that the research published in the paper was not possible without the "contributions" of the other PIs who are listed as co-authors of the paper?
    2. The purpose of such collaborative grant is to encourage synergy between multiple labs. The expectation is to get better research by different labs with slightly different expertise working together. I don't think it fits the spirit of the grant if the research was done solely by a postdoc or a student in one lab without any inputs from the other labs.
    3. Shouldn't the "honorary authorship" be considered an attempt to get more funding by misrepresenting the nature of collaboration?
    For these reasons, I think the practice of "honorary authorship" is shady in many cases. And in fact, it is not something that is practiced by every PI.
    And finally about the idea that "getting the grant funded is good for everyone in the lab". But the reality is that when some labs get funded, there are other labs that miss out. PIs who can manipulate the system getting more funding is not healthy if the goal is to fund the labs that do best research.

  • Pamiam says:

    What about undergraduates as co-authors? When I was an undergrad, I was a first author on a paper where I did all of the work, wrote the first draft of the paper, and did develop a method. Other undergrad research was more mundane, and I didn't end up as an author. Now I try to add undergrads when I can (I'm at a PUI). I just received a draft of a manuscript with 4 Profs and 15 undergrads (I didn't write it) and I can't imagine all 15 of them added to the intellectual development of the project (I know my two didn't; they simply did what I told them). In fact, I know all of the students personally, and most aren't capable of that type of intellectual contribution. Part of the paper is organic synthesis and I can't imagine one of the indicating a synthetic scheme. Instead they did what they were told or an independent TLC or melting point. Should we go ahead and add them anyway?
    What if I say my students only did what I told them but the other PIs indicate they want to add their students anyway? Should I relent and put my students on there too?

  • In fact, I know all of the students personally, and most aren't capable of that type of intellectual contribution.

    What "type" of intellectual contribution? My opinion concerning the level of experimental effort that merits authorship is as follows:
    Did you pour a gel, load some samples that were given to you, and take a picture, but had no idea or interest in what the samples were, or what the meaning of the picture was? Then no authorship.
    Did you pour a gel, load some samples that were given to you, and take a picture, but you knew what the samples were and knew what the meaning of the picture was in terms of a hypothesis being tested or a question being asked? Then authorship.

  • juniorprof says:

    While we're talking about what merits authorship (and BTW, I agree with CPPs position above). A common question occurs when a trainee is asked to do some experiments on a project. The trainee is fully aware of what the project is and how those experiments will add to the project. However, said experiments are technically difficult and they never work, despite the trainee's best efforts. Now, the person has produced no data for the present manuscript but they have contributed to the project through their efforts. Do they deserve authorship? My view is yes, but I have had posed this question to many others who say no.

  • Dave says:

    No data, no insights = no contribution. Thus no authorship, in my book. Every author needs to be able to point to something in the finished paper, and say 'That's mine. That's what I am responsible for. You got a problem with it, take it up with me.'
    That said, if it really was a good faith determined effort on a difficult task, I'd give the unlucky trainee an opportunity to earn authorship on the fast track. Have him/her do some tedious analysis no one else wants to do or help with a reviewer-requested experiment.

  • whimple says:

    Now, the person has produced no data for the present manuscript but they have contributed to the project through their efforts. Do they deserve authorship? My view is yes, but I have had posed this question to many others who say no. [emphasis added]
    I also say yes. Punishing good-faith efforts on the part of trainees that help the whole lab to succeed is stupid.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I was criticized numerous times for including my techs as authors on my papers. All my techs over the years knew what is the hypothesis being tested, they read the outcome of their experiments and understood its meaning and did participate in planning the follow-up experiments.

  • DSKS says:

    "However, said experiments are technically difficult and they never work, despite the trainee's best efforts. Now, the person has produced no data for the present manuscript but they have contributed to the project through their efforts. Do they deserve authorship? My view is yes, but I have had posed this question to many others who say no."
    If the experiments were part of a developing innovative approach, and the failure a result of the inevitable troubleshooting period, then I think authorship is assured because the troubleshooting itself is clearly a material contribution to whatever paper is finally produced based on that technique (assuming somebody in the lab gets it to work).
    But I'm not sure I can see the justification for placing a student (or anyone for that matter) on a paper if their work only involved failing to get some well-established technique to work (no matter how hard it might be). In that instance, I think there would need to be some other evidence that they made an intellectual contribution to warrant inclusion. If, for example, they had designed the experiments that they ultimately failed to complete, but that the design was sound enough for a co-author to produce the required data instead, I think a strong case for authorship regardless of data generation could be made for the trainee.
    "I also say yes. Punishing good-faith efforts on the part of trainees that help the whole lab to succeed is stupid."
    I disagree, and I think most ethical guidelines do also. There must be some competent contribution by an author to warrant inclusion on the manuscript, regardless of their level of training. If you had a postdoc who, for all his enthusiasm, couldn't design an experiment to save his life and that was hopeless at successfully generating data in experiments designed for him, would you put him on the manuscript for his efforts? I'm not convinced that it's legitimate to do so.

  • Alex says:

    Sometimes those failed experiments are what show you the way to the one that will work, or rule out the avenues needed to refine the investigation. If team members who did failed experiments contributed to the analysis and planning that led to the successful ones (even if their hands didn't do the successful ones) then a strong argument can be made for authorship.
    OTOH, if the people doing the failed experiments were banging their heads against the same unyielding obstacle while other members of the team were course-correcting, then the ones who only did failed experiments probably don't deserve authorship.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    jp@#22: Many varieties of this question that render absolutes such as expressed by Dave and whimple erroneous. In a case that something valuable was learned from the fruitless effort that was necessary to subsequently create the data in the paper? A good case for authorship. Obviously a gray area where the contribution can be either very closely related (best case) or very distantly related (argument against authorship).

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM, is that why your comments appear in a gray area? 😉

  • Dave says:

    "Sometimes those failed experiments are what show you the way to the one that will work, or rule out the avenues needed to refine the investigation."
    Oh, c'mon. You guys are just being stupid now.
    I have three boxes. Two are empty, one has a million dollars. I open two boxes, and they are empty. Did I help you find the prize? Of course.
    When I and others here are saying 'no contribution = no authorship', we are not talking about the sort of situation above, but are talking about the sort of situation where you give a guy three boxes, and he spends all his time looking under the couch, or in one empty box, and that same empty box again, and again, and again...
    Trying to do something isn't enough for authorship. You have to have contributed.
    As Yoda said: ""Do, or do not. There is no try."
    Call it the Yoda rule for authorship, if you wish.

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