Authorship Wackaloonery Level Fucktillion

Feb 12 2010 Published by under Conduct of Science, Science Publication

Doc2b Is a High-Affinity Ca2+ Sensor for Spontaneous Neurotransmitter Release
Alexander J. Groffen,1,*, Sascha Martens,2,*, Rocío Díez Arazola,1 L. Niels Cornelisse,1 Natalia Lozovaya,1,3 Arthur P. H. de Jong,1 Natalia A. Goriounova,1,3 Ron L. P. Habets,4 Yoshimi Takai,5 J. Gerard Borst,4 Nils Brose,6 Harvey T. McMahon,2,* Matthijs Verhage1,*
* These authors contributed equally to this work.


The first, second, last, and penultimate authors all contributed equally to the work? So there are four equal co-first-last authors? Hoooookay.

56 responses so far

  • bikemonkey says:

    oh, that is awesome. I've seen the co-first and co-last as different symbol categories for "equal contribution" but this takes the freakin cake!
    Do you get to put your name first AND last on your CV?????????

  • JohnV says:

    hahaha that's great.

  • another young FSP says:

    Actually bikemonkey (#1) - that raises a very interesting question. I talked with someone recently who said that in their opinion it was ok to switch the order of "equal contribution" authors on a CV to put your own name in higher priority (first if first; last if last). I then talked to someone else who said it was misleading and unethical, and considered that to be reason to mistrust any results that ever came from that person's lab. It sounds as though you agree with the first person - why?
    I don't think I have a strong opinion - I fall on the side that says names should be in exactly the same order on your CV that they were in the journal. But I don't see it as reason to run someone out of town on a rail, or as evidence that they are likely to falsify data.

  • neurlover says:

    So, what did each of them do?
    Is it the nature group that's listing this now? I know they're boiler plate, but I'm finding even the boiler plate useful. It details, at least, that the last author (and sometimes others) did not do the experiments (i.e. "collected the data"). That's useful, even if we all knew it was true anyway.

  • I talked with someone recently who said that in their opinion it was ok to switch the order of "equal contribution" authors on a CV to put your own name in higher priority (first if first; last if last).

    It is *absolutely* misleading, as it misrepresents the publication record. I would be very leery of anyone I knew had done this on a CV or biosketch.

  • Pinus says:

    list as published....put the note that it is co 1st. that is the only honest way.

  • another young FSP says:

    Bikemonkey mentions it off-hand as though it were a common practice - I had never heard of it prior to the incident I mentioned, which made seeing it implied again so soon surprising to me!
    So where/when did the idea come from? Is it a recent trend that just needs to be shut down? I know that equal-authorship has become much more popular over the last 10-15 years - is it a lagging response to that?
    (Two mentions could just be coincidence. If I hear it mentioned a third time within the next month or so - then I start to become very concerned about it being a real problem)

  • Alex says:

    I know people who made very significant contributions to a project and got listed as second author, usually in the case of interdisciplinary work (e.g. the first author did the experiment, but the second author did some computations that were absolutely crucial to interpreting the data). In those cases, usually the second author's best choice was not to fight for credit, but rather to flesh out his contribution and write a separate paper (as first author) for a good field-specific journal. So, if they do some imaging work and publish it in a biomedical journal, my friend who did the simulations might write a paper (as first author) that fleshes out the simulations and additional issues that weren't critical to the questions asked in the first paper, and send it to a good journal that focuses on the technology and simulations rather than the biomedical question. Not quite as prestigious in the Glamour Magz Game, but you get an unambiguous first author paper out of it, and you still have your second author paper as a sign of productivity (to whatever extent people care about such things).

  • another young FSP says:

    Thank you for the links! Very good discussions in the comments, as well. This would have given me context in the recent discussion.
    Sorry for re-hashing old ground!

  • DSKS says:

    Having simply expended the effort of casting my eyes upon that enormous author list, I think it's only fair that I, too, should be listed, and preferably as having contributed equally to Dr. Brose.

  • LM says:

    I saw another paper with exactly this authorship pattern a couple of weeks ago and my first thought was, I kid you not, "hah, I wonder what drugmonkey would say"

  • Tayschrenn says:

    If 4 authors contributed equally, what did the others do? Should they even be on the paper? The best way to put authors down is in surname/patronymic alphabetical order and not show any form of discrimination as all the authors should be considered equal. (And I do not say this as my surname begins with"D")

  • Solomon Rivlin says:

    As I said before ( http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/12/altering-listed-order-of-cofirst-authors-on-cv-totally-cool-or-falsification#comment-1278287 ),
    listing a list of authors on your CV differently from the way it is listed in the original paper is a form of falsification.
    That, howerver, brings up an intersting point; as the number of papers in which two or more people are listed as equal contributors grows, so does the chance that more of those authors may choose to list such papers on their CVs differently from the original record. If in general the najority of scientists believe that this practice is a form of scientific misconduct, what should be its consequences?
    PP constantly redicules my positions on scientific mmisconduct in science today and frquently calls me 'a paranoid.' Yet, here's a practice that could become widespread, which he himself alerted us to (more than once) and yet, according to him, there is no reason to get alarmed.

  • PP constantly redicules my positions on scientific mmisconduct in science today and frquently calls me 'a paranoid.' Yet, here's a practice that could become widespread, which he himself alerted us to (more than once) and yet, according to him, there is no reason to get alarmed.

    Fucklin, you gibbering delusional smegbag, I have never "alerted" anyone to this practice. Go bother your grandchildren.

  • qaz says:

    Sol #15 - There are misdemeanors and felonies and the two should not be confused. Changing the order of co-equal authors on your CV is a misdemeanor. It's a bad idea and likely to piss off hiring committees and reviewers. (So don't do it, kids!) Equating a misdemeanor like changing the order of co-equal authors with a felony like using grant money to buy a yacht or with corporate-level corruption like giving a dean 3% of the indirect costs only confuses the issue and diminishes the impact of the real problems. It makes you sound like the boy who cried wolf. Come on, Sol! You can't seriously think we need official legal punishment for some one who swaps co-equal names on a CV.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well if we're going to rehash the old argument...
    If it is ethically dubious for the listed-second co-equal to put her name first on her CV, it is equally wrong for the listed-first to omit the indication of equal-contribution on *her* CV.
    Q: which of these occurs more frequently, do you think?

  • pinus says:

    I have a co-1st author paper (I am 1st on the author list). I DO make note of it on my CV, mostly due to this blog/discussion.

  • If it is ethically dubious for the listed-second co-equal to put her name first on her CV, it is equally wrong for the listed-first to omit the indication of equal-contribution on *her* CV.

    This is totally false. The former is substantially worse than the latter, because the former misleads on the basis of settled expectations, while the latter simply reinforces settled expectations.
    Co-first-authorship is a sham with the sole purpose of salving the egos of non-first authors.

  • lamar says:

    I am second on a co-first, and always indicate it as such, but it does beg the question: if you are truly co-firsts with "equal" contributions, then there is no correct order. Equal means equal. You could theoretically do it either way. Otherwise, why bother, just make it first and second. Since we can't print it in 3D, you have to put one name first in 2D. Even in 3D I guess you'd have to decide who's foreground/background in the extra dimension.

  • I am second on a co-first, and always indicate it as such[.]

    Regardless of what you may think of this, and regardless of the details of why the authorship of the paper turned out this way, what it indicates to the world at large is that you *lost* the battle to achieve first-authorship, and the first-listed author *won*. The outcome of that battle indicates something to the members of the scientific community who assess your scientific output.

  • JohnV says:

    Could indicate that your PI would rather not have that fight with the other PI. Or that your last name starts with a crappy letter (V for example)... Ahhh the unexamined privledge of having your last name start with a good letter :p

  • Even if it is definitively established that the "co-first" authors were listed alphabetically, it still indicates that the non-first-listed "co-first" authors lost the battle to be first authors, and the first-listed author won.

  • lamar says:

    CPP-would you say that just taking second authorship might be better than second on co-first? that is, second on co-first might make you look like a (potentially) whiny loser?

  • Venkat says:

    Of course, the take home message is:
    In the future, beat the shit out of that project so much that at no point should your first authorship be in question.

  • Of course, the take home message is:
    In the future, beat the shit out of that project so much that at no point should your first authorship be in question.

    DING! DING! DING! We have a winner.
    The complexity, however, arises out of the fact that for certain kinds of highly interdisciplinary and large-scale research, this is a practical impossibility. This is why other mechanisms for apportioning credit are starting to be required in the biomedical sciences. Dicking around with asterisks and shit in author lists is *not* going to solve this problem.

  • James Hanley says:

    This highlights a real distinction between the natural and social sciences. As I understand the natural sciences, lots of folks who had some tangential role in the lab may get listed as authors, or a former research supervisor who didn't do any of the actual real work.
    In the social sciences, that kind of involvement is rare, and so things are much simpler, in a way. Multiple author pieces tend to have fewer authors, and while there is a mild presumption that first means something, it's understood that order is not a reliable indicator. In the research group I used to work with, we rotated lead authorship on our successive publications because we were all equally involved.
    I'm not suggesting the social sciences have any superiority on this matter, just that I feel perhaps we should count ourselves fortunate to have it easier on this particular matter.

  • arrzey says:

    Best post title in a long time.

  • senior grad student says:

    this is a very interesting conversation.
    I once bit the bullet and allowed myself to be 2nd author on some (not exactly groundbreaking) work because:
    1) The other person had put nearly as much time into the project and was roughly as capable as I to write it up
    2) I was going to be out of town for conferences and stuff right after we had finished taking final data and didn't want to delay progress.
    Was it a mistake to ever engage in a project where I was not the unambiguous leader?
    Currently I spend a large portion of my time (30% ?) helping out younger students with theory/design/even taking data for their expts, but I still give them the chance to write the paper. Is this a mistake (if my career goal is TT faculty position)? I can't help but think I would have had a much less successful graduate career if other postdocs/students hadn't helped me out when I was starting out.

  • anonymous says:

    Thanks senior graduate student for sharing your views and experience. IMHO, your approach has been the smartest and, in the long run, the most successful. True scientists know that "being protagonists" is not the end. Neither, always, the only mean to make science happen.
    It is inspiring to read your post at a moment in which the academic community is mourning for the facts and consequences of what has happened at Huntsville.

  • qaz says:

    SeniorGradStudent #30 - In my experiences hiring and applying, letters of recommendation are worth far more than fighting for one more step up on the authorship list. Science, particularly at the level we're all talking about, really is a small community. Being known as the helpful person who contributes to reviews, who pulls their weight on collaborative projects, who is an important component of scientific teams is more likely to get you that TT job than being known as the b*st*rd who shanks anyone who keeps you from that first authorship. Science may not be a "fucking carebears party" but it ain't Lord of the Flies either.
    As long as you have some first author papers, you'll be fine. I like to say that if you have 10 second-author papers you have nothing, but if you have 3 first author papers and 10 second-author papers, you have 13 papers.
    PS. This works on the other end as well. In a recent study section I was at, a PI got dinged for only having second-to-last-author publications, while a PI that had a similar number of second-to-last-author pubs plus a couple of last-author pubs got praised for being good at collaboration...

  • Being known as the helpful person who contributes to reviews, who pulls their weight on collaborative projects, who is an important component of scientific teams is more likely to get you that TT job than being known as the b*st*rd who shanks anyone who keeps you from that first authorship.

    This is a total load of horseshit in the biomedical sciences at the elite level. All that matters are first-author papers, and no analysis is engaged by search committees of whether you are "helpful", "contribute to reviews", or "pull your weight on collaborative projects", or are an "important component of scientific teams".
    No one gives a fuck about that. They want to see evidence that you can *lead* a scientific team. Period. If you are known as a truly toxic asshole, yeah that might be a problem because no one will want to even be around you, but if you are a shit-down kiss-up type of asshole who presents well socially, no one will know or care whether you "shanked" anyone for first authorship.
    (Usual disclaimer: This is not advocacy of being a "shit-down kiss-up type of asshole who presents well socially" nor of "shanking" others for first authorship. It is simply a description of my observations having served on numerous search committees in the biomedical sciences at an elite institution.)

  • anonymous says:

    "and no analysis is engaged by search committees of whether you are "helpful", "contribute to reviews", or "pull your weight on collaborative projects", or are an "important component of scientific teams"."
    CPP, this is very true but it does not mean that this needs to be this way for ever. I am no one to lecture you but change happens, societies evolve as long as there are some individuals who are ready to stand up, raise not only their voice but showing it with facts.
    Scientific leadership has, at times, nothing to do with being the first author or being "the protagonist" in multiple committees and positions of influence. It seems that recent experience have shown quite a few leaders, at all layers, leading to SHIT ( sorry for the curse) and placing a lot of people and the whole country at risk of going back to prehistoric times in terms of everything.
    I feel inspired by this senior graduate student.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Despite CPP's usual disclaimer, I strongly suspect that he lustily engages in exactly the kind of behavior he describes.

  • anon-HAHAHA says:

    I disagree. I think that CPP is just a big blubbermouth

  • Anonymous says:

    (i) Gunning for first authorship means doing the work that makes you deserve it, not shanking other people. No one here encouraged the latter.
    (ii) Helping your juniors (when your seniors helped you) or getting 2nd authorship for a paper you didn't have time to write is not martyrdom. It just seems fair. No one here discouraged collaboration or 2nd authorship.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    @37--That is a nice planet you live on, Anon. Where is it exactly?

  • Anonymous says:

    @38: That is what I feel. How does it depend on what planet I am on?
    I don't see anyone here promoting shanking other people to get ahead. So what are you whining about?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    I am not whining about anything. I am merely suggesting that your summary is rather simplistic, and does not take into account the not-uncommon scenarios in which 1st/2nd authorship decisions are ambiguous.

  • Anonymous says:

    @senior grad student #30: honestly I think it does hurt your future career prospects to be spending a large chunk of your time not engaged in activities that lead directly to more first-authorship papers. That is the cold hard truth. you will be judged on your CV and what people with more seniority (i.e. faculty) think of you, not what fellow grad students think of you. if the faculty aren't around to see you helping the other students (of if the other students keep quiet about your help because they fear it will make them look less competent to admit they had help) then you are hurting your career by being a nice person rather than being more Type A about ruthlessly getting ahead and not sparing a second on anything not directly tied to that goal.
    However, I have done and still do the exact same thing as you, because it is simply the decent human thing to do. I have known colleagues who NEVER did anything to help anyone unless they would directly benefit from it in the form of authorship on papers or grants, or if they were coerced or threatened in some other way otherwise. They complain loudly about being asked to do things that are not withint their job description because it's not their responsibility. Then I know other colleagues who are always helping others out whether or not they "need" to, or even whether or not they benefit from it. Of course some limit has to be drawn so that your own work and responsibilities don't fall by the wayside since you are still accountable for your own responsibilities, but if someone needs help and you are in a position to provide that help, why not? Some might say that this builds good karma and ultimately comes back to help you in other ways, but if that happens it's just a nice side benefit and not the reason for doing these things. You do it because you are a good, kind, decent person and colleague and I commend you for it.
    (Ironically I have also seen colleagues who insist on giving unsolicited help because it reinforces their own inflated self-image of being the smartest/most-competent and they get indignant if you decline their help and succeed on your own without them. It doesn't sound like this is you, but as a woman when I was in grad school I had more than one male colleague insist on "coming to my rescue" even though I didn't need it nor ask for it, and in fact I knew a lot more than them on the topic and went on to accomplish more doing it my way than their way would have led to.)
    just my observations on the topic of helping colleagues out informally.

  • El Picador says:

    @#41- Is that benchsplaining?

  • katherine10 says:

    What's benchsplaining ?

  • qaz says:

    CPP (in response to #33) - You are full of horseshit. The fact that you revel in your dysfunctional lifestyle does not mean the rest of us have to live in it too. (Or that the rest of science actually does.)
    I live in that elite level (multiple R01 grants, running a top-level lab, publishing in GlamourMagz, etc.) and I will tell you that there is a hell of a lot more to succeeding in science than how many fucking first authorships in GlamourMags you have. For one thing, publishing in a GlamourMag requires more than just dicking over the next person. For another, getting an R01 includes making sure that people trust you to do the science.
    Are first-author publications important? Hell, yes. But there's a lot more to the game than how many GlamourMag publications you whored yourself out for. If you look at what I said, you'll see that I said that being a part of the scientific community is an important part of succeeding. What senior grad student #30 asked was whether it was ok to spend 30% time getting second authorships. If SGS#30 spends 70% time on SGS's major work getting one or two first authorships and spends 30% time getting a bunch of second authorships, then that's time well-spent, especially if SGS's PI knows that SGS is a team player and is *demonstrating that SGS knows how to teach students and lead a lab* (notice the rec-letter keywords?). My guess (and my recommendation to SGS) is that the 30% time learning to actually lead a lab (getting some second authorships) is probably a much better use of SGS's time than fighting for one... more... GlamourPub.
    I know many more cases of someone who got the TT job based on a couple of strong first-authorships, a bunch of weaker ones, and great letters of rec, than cases of people who got the TT job based on GlamourMag publications combined with letters saying "This guy's a dick." By the way, this also goes for tenure. (I say this from the perspective of both sides of this equation - both from self and friends getting those TT jobs, self and friends going up for tenure, AND from being on hiring and tenure-deciding committees.)

  • Anonymous says:

    qaz,
    do you know what benchsplaining mean ? Has anything to do with your latest post ?

  • My guess (and my recommendation to SGS) is that the 30% time learning to actually lead a lab (getting some second authorships) is probably a much better use of SGS's time than fighting for one... more... GlamourPub.

    In what universe does obtaining second-authorships constitute "learning to actually lead a lab" or--even more absurdly--provide evidence to someone reading a faculty job application that the applicant will be capable of leading a lab? Telling trainees who are interested in shooting for a tenure-track faculty position that they should spend 30% of their time on efforts devoted to non-first-author publications is fucking academic malpractice.

  • qaz says:

    30% time spent on collaborative projects, which can lead to positive interactions in many other places is time very well spent. My assumption (which fits SGS's description in SGS#30) is that SGS IS learning how to teach students, that SGS IS gaining allies and friends who will help SGS when SGS needs help with SGS's project, and that the second-authorships are not on SGS's primary project. Science is a community. 30% of your time spent being a part of that community is time very well spent. Throughout my career, I'm sure that I've spent at least 30% of my time on such projects. Not only have those collaborations been fun and produced good science which I am proud of, some of those collaborations have definitely helped my career, helped me get my first-author publications (when I was a student), and helped me get senior-author publications (now that I am a PI). In fact, I know of several examples where I got lab funding due to connections and collaborations that started out as me helping someone on their project in exactly the way that SGS is talking about. (Oh, and I count some of those people as good friends that I look forward to spending time with at conferences.)
    Arguing that one should only spend time on projects that are going to get one a first-author publication in a GlamourMag journal is a recipe for disaster.

  • senior grad student says:

    hi,
    many thanks to all for the excellent (even if sometimes contradictory) advice.
    One possibly important disclosure--I am in experimental physics, not biomed/tech.
    Until recently I had assumed this didn't matter, however after reading some of the posts on this and related blogs, it would appear that people in bio-stuff are for some reason more competitive and less happy at the student/postdoc stages of career.
    Does anybody's advice therefore change?

  • Arguing that one should only spend time on projects that are going to get one a first-author publication in a GlamourMag journal is a recipe for disaster.

    I am not aware of anyone having given this advice. I personally have given the opposite advice in the past, including the fact that it is essential to balance high-risk efforts with the potential for high-impact journal pubs with those that are less risky and, correspondingly, less likely to result in high-impact pubs.
    Conversely, your explicit suggestion to spend 30% of your time on efforts guaranteed to result in nothing more than non-first authorships is a real recipe for disaster for a post-doc looking for a tenure-track position at a quality institution.

  • qaz says:

    Well, CPP, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree here and let SGS and the rest of the world decide on their own between free advice that's probably worth what they paid for it. 30% time spent on helping others (for which you get a heck of a lot more than just second-authorships - remember, the point of this time is not the second-authorships, it's the collaborations and the helping others part) is a pretty accurate description of the people I know who have gotten tenure track jobs (and tenure) at quality institutions.

  • Craig Heinke says:

    As someone who has recently landed a tenure-track job (astrophysics) at a major research university, I agree with qaz; I certainly spend >30% of my time on efforts related to non-first authorship papers. I couldn't possibly have written half as many first-author publications as my sum total of papers. Wearing my hat as a search committee member, I expect tenure-track applicants to have substantial numbers of papers where they're lower down the author list.

  • pinus says:

    well, here is another data point...I recently started as a TT assistant prof in a big R1 med school. As a post-doc, I probably spent 80% of my time on my work...with a few small side projects, including collaborations and training new people in the lab. So far these collabs have netted me a few middle author pubs, but 75% of my papers on my CV are 1st authorships.

  • Maks says:

    Another beautiful example of equal third authors:
    Martha Stapels*, Chelsea Piper*, Tao Yang#, Minghua Li#, Cheri Stowell#, Zhi-gang Xiong&, Julie Saugstad&, Roger P. Simon§, Scott Geromanos, James Langridge, Jing-quan Lan, and An Zhou§
    * These authors contributed equally to this work as first authors.
    # These authors contributed equally to this work as second authors.
    & These authors contributed equally to this work as third authors
    http://stke.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/3/111/ra15

  • bikemonkey says:

    So if the third-third author moves his name to first-third on his CV is he ethically compromised if he does not resort the tied first and second authors?

  • JohnV says:

    I can only imagine the heated lab meetings in which 2 people argued about who should be THIRD author to the point that the PI just went for the most absurd response possible.
    Actually I wonder how that comes up. 2 people argue about first author so the PI is like "ok fine whatever" then 3 more people people get into the act and are fighting over the now vacant second author spot so again the PI, after drinking some liquor, puts 3 co-second authors. (even though there are already 2 first authors so this should go olympic style making them co-third authors).
    Now authors number 6 and 7 smell blood because there's a vacant third author spot, somehow despite there being 5 people listed ahead of them, just figure why the hell not and fight over that spot too? (co-sixth authors, olympic style).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The 8th author and the last author are both listed as "communicating authors". The *8th*? Why? if he's a collaborating lab head shouldn't he be penultimate author (with co-equal contribution, perhaps? :-))
    this stuff is more hilarious with each new permutation....

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