Authorship Arguing Arse

Sep 17 2011 Published by under Science Publication

Following up on the prior post about authorship credit, I was wondering.

If you see a CV that has listed-first authorships, without symbol, and listed second with equal-contribution doodlebugger symbols, but no listed-first-with-symbol publications* you think anything about the author?

How about a CV that contains many multi-author pubs** but the person is only ever first or last?

*assuming here that this is an honest reflection

**I.e., it is not a subfield practice of only an author or two

36 responses so far

  • (1) I completely ignore the doodlebuggers, so I wouldn't even recognize that something like that was occurring.

    (2) It would surprise me, as I have never ever seen something like that in any CV of a scientist who has been in the business for any significant period of time.

  • Alex says:

    I would expect a grad student or postdoc to have a certain number of middle-author pubs. For all the times that you are first and some other people are in the middle, there must have been a few times when you were in the middle, right? Otherwise it means that a lot of people did useful things for you but you never did anything anything useful for anybody else.

    I would expect a professor to have mostly last-author papers (for stuff where their group was the lead) or near-last (for stuff where they collaborate with another group that was the lead on the project). Maybe a few first-author papers (review articles, stuff they did with their own hands on sabbatical, etc.).

    However, I wouldn't be too surprised by a person who has some second-but-asterisked papers and first-without-asterisk papers but no first-but-asterisked papers. Although the asterisks for equal contributions are becoming more common, they're still a fairly small fraction of all papers out there. Consequently, I'd attribute any anomalies to small-number statistics.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Sometimes I think PP just exists to make people's blood pressure explode. And I mean besides myself.

    If the cv is only a selection of published work, I expect it to say that a selection of examples are being shown and I would expect the nature of the examples to be stated.

    I wouldn't notice if they were selectively doodlebugging on their CV because it isn't that far out of the realm of the possible that there were true asymmetry in those classes. Also, how many people have enough multiple doodlebug papers that something would stink? Presumably on average the window for possible doodlebugs isn't that great.

  • Suckers who get out-maneuvered into non-first-author positions with "equal contribution" assertions shouldn't delude themselves that anyone really thinks of them as first-authors.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Case in point^

    Good times!

  • Dude, none of this has anything to do with me. Sometimes reality ain't pretty, but better to understand it than to live in a world of illusion.

  • gerty-z says:

    I actually think a teensy bit less of BOTH "co-first authors" on a pub. what's a doodlebug?

  • gerty-z says:

    though I do generally assume that the co-first that is listed first is more of the "real" first author

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "These authors made equal contributions; their names are listed alphabetically.*"

    *Unless their surname began with the letter "P" or a letter occurring after "P" in the Roma alphabet."

  • though I do generally assume that the co-first that is listed first is more of the "real" first author

    Of course you do. That is because you are aware that the not-first "equal contribution" author did not have the traction to actually be the first author, and was given "equal contribution" status as a negotiating tactic to get them to go along with not being the first author.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    You just go with the status quo. You hands are tied. Just preaching the truth. No other choices. Makes sense.

  • human says:

    Pinko Punko, you do understand the difference between describing reality and making a normative claim that said reality is a good thing, right?

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I sure do, I also know how CPP claims that he/she/it/bird feels and synchronizes that with the status quo. We do not see "when I evaluate CVs, this is how I do it, but in my experience this is how it is generally done" we see "I don't pay attention to any of this because x is both the only thing that matters to other people and [implication] x is the only that matters to me."

    Roll the tape.

  • Dude, the status quo is that people dicke around with this "equal contribution" shitte way too much, and I refuse to buy into it. As I have explained in detail in the past, I agree that there can be problems with the way that scientific credit is allocated in complex multi-disciplinary collaborative projects. However, "equal contribution" is a horrible kludge that doesn't solve the problem, and just makes things worse, in part because it is based on a lie.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Yeah, they dick around with it because 15 author S/C/N papers are good for the bosses and those papers don't exist without some sort of agreement to provide some sort of benefit for the individuals doing the work- the people that are fighting for their lives not to be ground into sausage. Contributions are difficult to define anyway, so how exactly is it a lie? Someone does 70% of the work, but someone else's 30% was essential to the project would be an extreme case. Those people aren't likely to be given equal contributions, but you could make a case that both could be considered for lead authorship. You have labs that function as factories, where the projects are assigned to people working as teams and not as independent entities/free agents. How do they publish in an environment that demands 15 figure papers for high profile journals? Where multiple papers are smooched into one? How can they be rewarded?

    Since the reality is that this horrible kludge exists, and let's assume it is a lie, why would one assume that the game of Survivor you claim is played to get to be the first author is an accurate reflection of contributions when you evaluate CVs? And if you don't think it is accurate, why do you ignore the other positions?

  • whimple says:

    PP is right. The cold hard reality is that we're looking for FIRST AUTHOR publications. That means that out of all the authors, you get listed first. When the paper is cited, it is cited as YOUR NAME et al. When we look at the publication lines on your CV, your name is closest to the left margin. That kind of thing. Why? Because it's easy for us and we know what it means and it isn't open to gamesmanship. Is it unfair? Not our problem. If it was unfair, that unfairness is the fault of the last author, and of the second author that didn't have a sufficiently developed survival instinct to get their name listed FIRST to take the credit they deserved.

  • And don't cry for the non-first equal-contribution second authors. Plenty of them from famous labs and fancy institutions are getting excellent tenure-track jobbes. And you know what? Most of those weak fuckers that couldn't angle into the first-author position flame the fucke out.

  • fish says:

    Arguing whether a shared first listed second is really a first author is like arguing whether someone is 6'1" or is he really 6'0.5", it just doesn't matter.
    I don't think this is the point of the question though. For me a phone call is usually a quicker and better way to get real insight to the person than trying to read the blood entrails of a cv.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Hmm, if those Survivor cast-offs are getting those jobs on a bunch of "second author" papers, does it not suggest that someone is considering that their contributions rise to somewhere near first authorness? I'd love to see the statistics of the flame outs from big labs relative to author position. I'd love to have all this data- I'm sure it is different than big labs placing a tonne of postdocs in positions and then eating them with the next round of of postdocs. It totally isn't that. It's that they were fake first authors who nobody gave any credit to, yet gave them jobs based on [the crickets they chirp].

    So CPP and Whimple have a contradiction in their two statements, and I repeat the contradiction that CPP states the shared first-authorship is always a lie, and a game of Survivor, and yet the attributes that lead to the winner of the Survivor are somehow accurate for both Whimple and CPP to also presume that those were the scientific attributes they were looking for and not just circumstantial, Machiavellian or political. I feel like it is so clear now. Flame on, kind gentlemen.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Hahahah, yeah, I want to see those second author flameout data!

  • whimple says:

    Who said it wasn't circumstantial, Machiavellian or political? Hey, welcome to academic biomedical science!

  • TreeFish says:


    That's me!!!! I have 25 (14 first-authors, and 3 shared--- yes, 17 then) papers since 1999 in Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, J Neurosci, J Comp Neurol, J NeuroFizz, Behavioral Neuroscience, Neuroscience, etc. That's me...though sadly, empirical but no TINS or cool and pithy review papers (well, maybe one).

    I sought collaborations but often took backseat to gain the added oomph for a couple of forthcoming high-profile papers. Also, I got screwed by a post doc advisor who had small cell lung cancer and then senile dementia as a result of aggressive radiation treatment. I needed to submit the renewal without Program knowing advisor was on deathbed. Yikes.

    Don't judge Assistant Profs on their publications in the transition years-- please. Hey, you're not in the MDCN are you? Whoa, 1.0, please.

    Judge the applicant on the quality of their papers/legacy, not their cold impers0nal biosketch.


  • Pinko Punko says:

    Whimple, you said that first author was meaningful in those situations to you, yet if it is all those other things too [political, etc], maybe "first author" is not the metric in those cases you should be looking for?/anvil

    Other reasons for multi-author flameout faculty: Maybe hiring people with C/N/S papers based on work coming out of conglomerations of multiple interested labs with multiple interested post-docs means people are getting hired based on journal articles where they don't really have a system, just results, and when they get Godzilla stomped by one of the many PIs on their machine-derived paper, maybe it would have been useful to look further down the stack for someone both productive and with a system?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    CPP's stated opinions are highly revelatory of his character. Because he is narrowly focused on his own rinky-dink science, he cannot imagine how actual, complex science operates. He then projects his own bullying tendencies onto the participants, and can only assume that the whole thing is based on a lie. Notice also that his comments in no way seek to improve the situation, and only serve to perpetuate it.

    While it is true that there are many small-minded assholes out there who view CV's this way, I have also encountered many (on hiring committees and study sections) who do not.

    "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit." -- Ronald Reagan

  • blatnoi says:

    How about randomizing authors with equal contributions? It's possible with new technology. Just put an asteriks in front of the first and second author and say "the contributions are equal so the order will be randomized" and every time the paper is loaded online it'll be a different order. The printed version can have only one order though, but then you're not lying if you put your name first on the CV and it comes out third one time when you print it. If you load it enough times, you'll be first. Indexing services will have to adopt, or can act as a print version I guess. When you load the text, it will be different. Shouldn't be too hard to do. Every time I load articles from certain journals now it tells me the date I did it on the PDF and my affiliation.

  • Swiss guy says:

    Two first authors? That's nothing, these guys have four:

  • This is what I wrote on the topic almost three years ago:

    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.

  • Joat-mon says:

    Has anyone looking into h-index, g-index or more complex metrics (

  • drugmonkey says:

    Sure, Joat-mon, there are always people who think their unique brilliance is better recognized by a different "objective" metric of scientific awesomeness. and much as with Journal IF are entirely willing to disregard the obvious biases and limitations of their favored measure in their efforts to promote it as being somehow a better reflection of the science awesomity of their CV.

    Have you considered the d-index? It is quite an excellent refinement on Impact Factor.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    @CPP -- I just reviewed that thread from 2008, and noticed that out of 106 comments, you managed to snipe and sneer at co-first-authorship (and co-first-authors) numerous times without once ever suggesting a constructive alternative.

    It is also false to for CPP make blanket statements about how fellowship review and job search committees evaluate co-firsts. As I mentioned above, there are unfortunately a bunch of jerks who still act like him, but there are increasing numbers of more fair and objective reviewers.

  • newby prof says:

    I offer co-first authorship as incentive to trainees to work on collaborative projects. Who's going to bust her ass to be 2nd author on a paper? Should I tell my collaborators that my trainees will only participate if they can get non-shared first authorship?

    Yes, the co-first author thing isn't the greatest but would love to hear constructive alternatives.

    By the way, is shared corresponding authorship (non-last) also looked down upon?

  • CPP must not believe that genomics and in general computational biology is a relevant area of biology and science. Co-authorship is often used for many large/medium projects with the convention being second to last listed author is the computational senior author (with the doodlebugger) and the first author analog being the case where the second listed author as
    the computational author. Surely, these are cases of where doodlebuggers are stupid fuckes and so are the co-authors.

  • Enkidu says:

    I've been on two "co-first author" papers, but I refuse to put "doodlebuggers" in my CV indicating such (one I am listed first and the other I am listed second). If someone prints out the paper to read, they might take notice, but I would feel lame asterisking my manuscripts on my CV and having to explain it.

    "By the way, is shared corresponding authorship (non-last) also looked down upon?" In my lab, we have two PIs and they alternate who is listed as last author. But, the first author gets the corresponding author asterisk.

  • blatnoi says:

    Sorry dm, didn't read the comments.... I thought for sure no one else would have that idea. Anyways, when we send the patent, co first authors?

  • A. Tasso says:

    Just came across this paper in Neuron with FOUR co-first authors:

    What's the world record?

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