A couple of months ago we took a poll to see what the attitudes of ecologists were towards the concept of senior authorship. Twenty-seven folks (including the two of us) weighed in (thanks everyone!) and here are the results:
Of those who where confident that the field was in one state or the other, twice as many thought that the concept of senior authorship did not apply in ecology. However, when including the not sure results it became a tie between those who thought senior authorship applied and those who didn’t. This is unfortunately the worst possible situation that the field could be in since it leads to inconsistent perceptions regarding the meaning of author lines and therefore inconsistent evaluation of scientific contributions.
So, what should we do? One thing that we could do to help clarify things is to follow the advice of Tscharntke et al. 2007 to include (in the Acknowledgements section of the paper) a description of which of the methods of author ordering where used for each paper. This won’t change the impression of someone giving a CV a quick skim, but it provides a clear record of contribution that can be looked at in cases where a more precise understanding of contributions is warranted (e.g., tenure decisions, evaluating job packets once the committee has narrowed things down to a short list, etc.). Beyond that I’m not sure what can be done. I’d love to here suggestions if you have them.
I’d also like to take one more poll to help understand our reaction as a field to Wiley-Blackwell’s recent decision to include the last author as the only named author in their RSS feeds.
Thanks again to everyone who filled out the first poll and commented on the previous post. It’s great that we are starting to be able to have conversations like this with folks outside of our own labs and departments.