Monday, November 5, 2007

Author Order

EMBO Reports Science and Society section has an interesting note about author position in publications. Wren et al. 2007 note that a prominent publication trend is "author inflation", where the number of authors per paper is growing. This is probably linked to the increase in complexity of biological research and the trend towards greater collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. Naturally everyone wants the coveted first or last author spots, but those are in short supply, so more researchers are listed in the middle author spots. Given that there are, on average, more authors, what happens to those in the middle? Wren et al. report that the perception is that the more authors there are, the less each middle author contributed.

Wren et al. provide some valuable advice for untenured faculty and grad students: if possible, become corresponding author.

"Respondents reduced last-author credit when the corresponding author was the middle author. This suggests that candidates for promotion or tenure would be well advised to highlight publications on which they acted as corresponding author, especially if they were not the last author."

I found this surprising since I thought that nobody paid attention to who was corresponding author. At any rate, I am in favor of clearly delineating contributions in the paper itself, preferably on the first page, but not many journals require this.


  1. I agree. I find it vexing that often, the only source of information on who did what in a study is the press release...

  2. True... but sometimes even the press release mentions only the PI. That can be annoying as well.