Week 3: Integrity in Authorship

When I was going through the reading, “Becoming a Scientist,” I was especially intrigued by the section about authorship. The complex issue of how credit is distributed for work on scientific articles is very interesting and I think that there are some parts of the system which make a lot of sense and help to create fair results. Other parts of the norms of authorship, however, perpetuate some of the power structures that plague academia and I think that as the next generation of researchers, we need to actively create change in the standards of the system as they stand.

As an undergraduate student, I was not aware of the importance of publishing to the career of an academic. When I began graduate school, I was a bit shocked to discover the degree to which entering an academic career relied upon publishing and the importance of where your name falls in the list of authors in a paper. As I learn more about this system, I have realized that it is important to have a system for acknowledging the various contributions that lead to a publication. In this sense, I think that the journals in which authors are listed in order of contribution seem to create a fair system.

In contrast, I think that cases in which, “the head of a research group is an author on almost every paper associated with the group” have the potential to create a very unfair system. If the head of a research group is not contributing a significant amount of work towards a publication, I think that it is misleading (at best) to include them as an author. As students we need to become comfortable about having conversations with our superiors about authorship. I think that this not only creates a more fair system, but also creates a more collaborative environment. Researchers, advisors, and heads of research groups are highly incentivized to publish. If one makes it clear that the expectation is that anyone listed as an author on a paper must make significant contributions to the work, I think it is likely that they will receive more help from these people because they benefit greatly from being listed as an author.

I realize that I am still very early in my career in academia and that some of these challenges are not easy to solve. I believe, however, that if we as academics do not recognize the parts of the publishing system (or the academic machine as a whole) that we are not happy with and actively work to change them, those things will just continue and no change will occur.