Deciding who should and should not be on the author line of a science publication is not as simple as it seems. As we know, citations matter, publications matter and there are all sorts of implications for authorship of a science publication.
A question about this arose on the Twitts:
Of course, we start from a very basic concept. Authorship of a scientific paper is deserved when someone has made a significant contribution to that paper. I can't distill it down any more than that. Nice and clean.
The trouble comes in when we consider the words significant and contribution.
This is where people disagree.
I also rely on another basic concept which is that someone should try to match, to a large extent, the practices within the subfields from which similar work is published. This can mean the journal itself, the scientific sub-domain or the institution type from which the paper is being submitted.
On to the specifics of this case.
First, do note that I understand that not everyone is in the position to wield ultimate authority when it comes to these matters. @forensictoxguy appears to be able to decide so we'll take it from that perspective. I will mention, however, that even if you are not the deciderer for your papers, you can certainly have an opinion and advocate this opinion with the person in charge of the decision making.
My first observation is that there is nothing wrong with single-author papers. They might be rare these days but they do occur. So don't be afraid to offer up a single-author paper now and again.
With that said, we now move on to the fact that the author line is a communication. Whether you are trying to convey a message about yourself as a scientist or not, your CV tells a story about you. And everything on there has potential implications for some audiences.
ethical, schmethical. Again, you don't throw someone on a paper "just because", you do it because they made a contribution. A contribution that you, as the primary/communicating/deciderering author, get to determine and evaluate. It is not impossible that these other people referred to in the Tweet made, or will make, a contribution. It could be via setting the environment (physical resources, administrative requirements, funding, etc), training the author or it could be through direct assistance with crafting the manuscript after all the work has been done. All of these are valid as domains for significant contribution.
This scenario of a private industry research lab appears, from the tweets, to be one where the colleagues and higher-ups are not intimately involved in pushing paper submissions. It appears to be a case where the author in question is deciding whether or not to even bother publishing papers. Therefore, the politics of ignoring more-senior folks (if they exist) is unfamiliar. I can't do much but read through the Tweet lines and assume this person is not risking annoying someone who is their boss. Obviously if someone in a boss-like status would be miffed, it is in your interest to find some way that they can make a contribution that is significant in your own understanding or to have a bloody discussion about it at the very least.
Leaving off the local politics, we can turn to the implications for your CV and the story of you as a scientist that it is going to tell.
If all you ever have are first-author publications it will look, to the modern eye, like you are non-collaborative, meaning not a team player. This is probably an impression you would like to avoid, yes, even within an industrial setting. But this is easy to minimize. I can't set any hard and fast rules but if you have some solo-author and some multiple-author pubs sprinkled throughout your timeline, I can't see this being a big deal. Particularly if your employment particulars do not demand a lot of pubs and, see above, the other people around you are not publishing. Eventually it would become clear that you are the one pushing publication so it isn't weird to see solo-author works.
Consider, however, that you are possibly losing the opportunity to burnish your credentials. The current academic science arc has an expectation for first-author papers as a trainee (grad student, postdoc) which is then supposed to transition to last-author pubs as a scientific supervisory person (aka professor or PI). Industry, I surmise, can have a similar path whereby you start out as some sort of lowly Scientist and then transition to a Manager where you are supervising a team.
In both of these scenarios, academic and industry, looking like you are a team-organizing, synthetic force is good. Adding more authors can be helpful in creating this impression. Looking like you are the driving intellectual participant on a sub-area of science is good. This concern looks like it votes for thinning your authorship lines- after all, someone else in your group might start to leech credit away from you if they appear consistently or in a position (read: last author, co-contributing author) that implies they are more of the unifying intellectual driver.
This is where you need to actually think about your situation.
I tell trainees who are worried about being hosed out of that one deserved first-author position or being forced to accept a co-contributing second author this
; You are in for the long haul. If you are publishing multiple papers in this area of science (and you should be) then for the most part you will have first-authors and in the end analysis it will be clear that you are the consistent and most important participant. It will be a simple matter for your CV to communicate that you are the ONE. So it may not be worth sweating the small stuff on each contentious author issue.
In a related vein, it costs you little to be generous, particularly with middle authors that have next to no impact on your credit for this work.
If you only plan to publish one paper, obviously this changes the calculation.
Do you ever plan to make a push for management? Whether of the academic PI or industry variety, I think it is useful to lay down a record of being the leader of the team. That can mean being communicating author or being last author. At some point, even in industry, an ambitious scientist may wish to start being last author even under the above-mentioned scenario.
This is what brand new PIs have to do. Find someone, anyone to be the first author on pubs so that they can be the last author. This is absolutely necessary for the CV as a communication device. Undergrad volunteer? Rotation student? Summer intern? No problem, they can be the first author right? Their level of contribution is not really the issue. I can see an industry scientist that wants to start making a push for management doing something similar to this.
As always, I return to the concept that you have to do your own research within your own situation to figure out what the expectations are. Look at what most people like yourself, in your situation, tend to do. That's your starting point. Then think about how your CV is going to look to people over the medium and long term. And make your authorship decisions accordingly.