Whose name comes first? International study on the effects of naming order of authors of academic articles

A large part of academic research all over the world is conducted within teams of researchers. As this makes it difficult for the reader to discern who wrote which contribution, it has become common practice to attempt to deduce this information from the order in which the authors are listed. Due to this being a highly error-prone approach, academic journals have begun requiring that the authorship of individual contributions be disclosed in contribution statements. In two studies, Professor Carolin Haeussler (University of Passau) and Professor Henry Sauermann (Georgia Institute of Technology) have examined whether this practice has improved matters and how it affects the perception of authorship and the value of individual contributions. The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

Study 1 was concerned with examining the relationship between author order and contribution statement in some 12,000 articles to determine what type of information is imparted in each case. ‘This analysis quantifies the risk of error when inferring contributions from author order and shows how this risk increases with team size and for certain types of authors', explained Carolin Haeussler. 'At the same time, the analysis suggests that some components of the value of contributions are reflected in author order but not in currently used contribution statements', she said.

Complementing the bibliometric analysis, Study 2 analyses survey data from more than 6,000 corresponding authors to examine how contribution statements are written and used. Professor Haeussler said: 'This analysis highlights important differences between fields and between senior versus junior scientists, as well as strongly diverging views about the benefits and limitations of contribution statements.' 

On the basis of the two studies, the researchers wish to redefine important avenues for future research and consider implications for a broad range of stakeholders.

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| 23.11.2017