Has the era of senior authorship come to ecology?

Senior authorship is the practice whereby the last position on an author line is occupied by the leader of the lab in which the project was conducted (i.e., the P.I., the advisor, whatever terminology you prefer). Being the senior author on a paper is considered a sign of leadership on the project and is arguably at least as prestigious as being the first author. This practice is commonplace (i.e., practically required) in the cellular, molecular & biomedical fields, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in ecology.

Nearly two years ago I suggested that the idea of using the last position on an author line to indicate the “senior author” was bad for collaborative, interdisciplinary, fields such as ecology. While I still believe this to be true I’m wondering if this is a battle that has already been quietly fought and lost. I’ve seen more and more examples of labs that are using this senior authorship model (i.e., the advisor is always in last place on the author line and presumably not because they always make the smallest contribution) and just in the last few weeks I’ve noticed that Wiley’s RSS feeds no longer even list the first author of the paper, just the last author. So, I thought I’d ask you (and any of your friends you’d like to forward this to) what you thought so that folks starting their own labs (including me) can get a feel for what the field’s take on last authorship is.

Feel free to discuss further in the comments.

UPDATE: Corrected Freudian slip in the title.

5 Comments on “Has the era of senior authorship come to ecology?

  1. Author line should be purely based on contribution. Senior authorship is just a way to profit from work and ideas of people in a disadventaged ‘academic’ and financial position. If one guy has a small contribution to a paper, he cannot ask for disproportionate recognition just because he/she is the boss of the lab where the first author happens to have a desk and a socket for his/her laptop plug.

  2. I too noticed this change in Wiley (Ecology Letters in particular) and find it quite annoying. We should contact Wiley and let them know that they should list all authors.

    I think more journals should take the PNAS approach and list actual contributions of individual authors.

  3. @lapin – I agree. If the lab head has really contributed then they should be high up on the line. If the contribution has been more minimal then they should be further down (or absent altogether).

    @Karthik – Yeah, I really like the PNAS model and have even started sneaking author contributions into acknowledgements from time to time. I’d be more than happy to sign on to an email/letter to Wiley.

  4. Pingback: Senior authorship in ecology? Maybe. | Jabberwocky Ecology

  5. Pingback: Senior authorship in ecology? Maybe. | Jabberwocky Ecology

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