Honesty in equal contribution

September 16, 2011

When we last wrangled at length over the treatment of “equal contribution” authorships on the CV certain opinions emerged. There were those who felt very strongly that re-ordering, say, the first and second listed authors (who contributed equally) was fraudulent and unethical. I was unable to get these types to express similar outrage about someone conveniently failing to note the equal contribution. I speculated that the listed-first author was going to be more likely to do so.

I am happy to report that I have recently run across an example in which the listed-first author was careful to denote equal contribution. Kudos to you, my ethical friend!

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No Responses Yet to “Honesty in equal contribution”

  1. Spiny Norman Says:

    FFS it’s either equal or it’s not, asshats.

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  2. gerty-z Says:

    Agree with SN. If someone applied to my lab or for a faculty position in my dept. and I found out they did NOT acknowledge = contributions I would notice. And not in a good way.

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  3. whimple Says:

    I don’t believe there is such a thing as equal contributions. You’re the first author, or you aren’t. End of story.

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  4. Joat-mon Says:

    I STRONGLY DISAGREE with whimple!! Everyone is working on complex research questions, using multidisciplinary approaches these days. Can a single person really do everything? C’mon!

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  5. Alex Says:

    First, whether or not the contributions are truly, exactly equal in some cosmic sense, the bottom line is that an author list is an assignment of credit, in accordance with whatever the conventions of the field might be. If the journal puts an asterisk on those first two names, then that first author has not been assigned the same credit as a first author who didn’t get an asterisk. One can agree or disagree on whether it should have been done that way, but it was done that way, and the CV should reflect it. Otherwise you are misrepresenting how credit was assigned in the official, peer-reviewed venue recognized by the people in the field.

    OTOH, Joat-mon is attacking a straw version of what whimple said. You can have a project where multiple people did things but still have one who did more than another and deserved more credit than another. Saying that multiple people did important things is not always the same as saying that everybody did things that were exactly equal.

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  6. I was unable to get these types to express similar outrage about someone conveniently failing to note the equal contribution.

    There is a very good reason for this. If you change the listed order on a reference list–such as the one in your CV–you are lying about what is in the published literature, and failing to follow the accepted convention for referencing a published paper, which is to list the authors in the same order as they appear in the publication. If you fail to put the little asterisks or daggers or squiggledoobies in a reference list–such as the one in your CV–you are following the accepted convention for referencing a published paper, which is to not include any of the affiliation footnote numbers, corresponding author designation footnotes, or other little asterisks or daggers or squiggledoobies.

    Many people do list their “co-first-author” squiggledoobies on their CVs, but for someone to fail to do so is no more objectionable than to fail to list the “corresponding author” squiggledoobies, which no one does.

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  7. AcademicLurker Says:

    no more objectionable than to fail to list the “corresponding author” squiggledoobies, which no one does.

    When I submitted my official CV with my tenure package I made very sure to include my “corresponding author” squiggledoobies.

    Although that’s mainly because “the last author listed is the corresponding author” is apparently not the convention in every field, and you never know who will be evaluating your application…

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  8. drugmonkey Says:

    You are neglecting to consider, PP, that while the communicating squiggledibble adds to the author list orthogonally, the co-equal contribution one is explicitly modifying the author list. To omit the symbol is just as much of an ethical lapse as leaving off an author, or re-ordering authors in the absence of any equal contribution indicator.

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  9. drugmonkey Says:

    On a related topic, you know those Author Contribution statements that are becoming more popular by the month? How long until we start seeing vicious fights over the order and phrasing of *those* statements?

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  10. Dennis Says:

    Are the authors not denoted by squiggles also ethically required to list the squiggles in all of their CVs?

    For example, is the fourth author on a paper with 2 co first authors required to put the asterisks in on their CV? A first author on a paper with 2 co-second authors? Senior authors?

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  11. becca Says:

    DM- with respect, the reason author affiliations are noted is *not* random orthogonal info. It is also a form of apportioning credit.
    Hypothesis:
    Just as some grad students like to see all their ideas as springing forth fully formed from their own heads (irrespective of the carefully manicured lab they were in), some faculty members like to see all their publications as springing forth fully formed from their own labs (irrespective of the carefully manicured institution they were in).

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  12. drugmonkey Says:

    Becca, orthogonal means neither “random” nor unimportant. And “communicating author” was the issue, I said nothing about institutional affiliation.

    Dennis, particularly critical for senior authors- if “their” postdoc or grad student has to share credit with another lab, so should they.

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  13. Alex Says:

    I admit that I probably wouldn’t put markers for co-first author if I was a middle (and non-corresponding) author. The primary purpose of my CV is to provide an honest accounting of my accomplishments. If I should ever be co-first, adding the asterisk provides relevant context on my contribution. If I am fourth on a list of six or whatever, the asterisk by the first two authors says nothing about my role or level of credit. (And, let’s face it, fourth of six generally ain’t much credit). The one exception might be if I was supervising one of the co-first authors and elsewhere (either on my CV or in an accompanying document) I was talking about the students I’ve mentored. In that case, providing context for the student’s accomplishment is relevant.

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  14. Alex Says:

    Oh, and in some fields people DO list the corresponding asterisks on their CV. Generally this is in fields where all 200 members of the collaboration get listed as authors on every paper from the collaboration, and the only two author that really matter are the student/postdoc who did the key pieces for this paper and the professor who supervised that person. Otherwise, every CV in those fields would have dozens of papers.

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  15. drugmonkey Says:

    Agreed with your fourth author caveat, Alex. However, if we’re shooting for a general principle (and we should be) it seems to a very small burden to add the symbols.

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  16. [T]he co-equal contribution one is explicitly modifying the author list.

    No, it is not “modifying the author list”. It is making an assertion concerning the relative contributions of authors in different positions in the author list. Many people use “co-first author” as sloppy shorthand, but the assertion is *never* “Both these authors are the first author”. Rather, it is *always* “These authors contributed equally…” This is additional information orthogonal to the order of the authors in the list and does not modify the author list.

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  17. Pinko Punko Says:

    If both authors were the first author, then their names would be printed on top of each other. Don’t be knobtuse.

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  18. drugmonkey Says:

    making an assertion concerning the relative contributions of authors in different positions in the author list.

    That is just a different way of saying it is modifying the author list. I win.

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  19. No, it isn’t. You have attempted to distinguish corresponding author assertions from equal contribution assertions, but there is no principled basis for such a distinction. You lose.

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  20. drugmonkey Says:

    I have successfully established the distinction and your failure to advance your position has in fact supported mine. It is exceptionally poor form not to simply acknowledge the assplatter handitude!

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  21. No. You are promulgating bullshitte to support your own delusions, but you fail, and you are wrong.

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  22. whimple Says:

    Can the make-up sex be far behind?

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  23. becca Says:

    @whimple- thank you for bringing to my attention the fact this blog, woefully, lacks a place to rate comments as ‘hilarious’

    Like

  24. Spiny Norman Says:

    “Many people do list their “co-first-author” squiggledoobies on their CVs, but for someone to fail to do so is no more objectionable than to fail to list the “corresponding author” squiggledoobies, which no one does.”

    Absolute horseshit.

    It’s taking credit where credit is not due: an ethical lapse that is exactly and precisely comparable to plagiarism.

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  25. […] 30 2011: DrugMonkey for “Honesty in equal contribution”, “Authorship arguing arse”, and “Authorship order rules: the departed are […]

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