23 Oct, 12 | by Iain Brassington
Seriously! Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics has published a paper with a hundred and ninety-eight listed authors!
I’ve always been slightly puzzled by multi-authored papers – by just how many people get to add their names to a piece of work. A friend of mine who is a proper scientist once tried to explain how it works in the sciences to me – about how you need to give credit to the people who ran the experiment, but also to those who did the titration and general donkey-work. That seems fair enough. Having said that, I suspect that there’s often a bunch of people who get credits that shouldn’t be there. (I remember once seeing a CV from a guy that had 45 pages’ worth of publications listed. Granted, it was double-spaced… but, still: there must have been the thick end of a thousand papers listed; there’s no way on God’s good Earth that he could have played a significant role in all of them. So why was he entitled to claim them? Why did he take the credit? Apparently, it was because, although not all of the papers referred to work he’d done, they did all refer to work done by other people in a lab he ran.) Anyway… the Steinhauser et al ad infinitum paper, with its 198 authors, isn’t lab-based, so the credit-where-it’s-due argument wouldn’t work.
(Jozsef Kovacs, writing in a paper currently available as a pre-pub in the JME, is also concerned about authorial inflation, and who should get the credit for a given paper, and how to improve things. It’s definitely worth a look.)
The author list for the Steinhauser paper seems to have been generated at least in part via the membership of a Facebook group (and one that no longer exists, or at least one that is so private that it doesn’t show up on a search). That’s just silly, and there’s no way that anyone can successfully marshall so many contributors. That turns a paper into an open letter. Indeed: the “authors” seem to think that their paper could be treated as such without loss: more…