H/T to @MyBioTechniques for pointing me to a Chronicle article by Chris Woolston ‘When a mentor becomes a thief‘, which recounts a number of cases of junior scientists finding themselves left out of authorship when papers about their work are published. The peer reviewed publication is the currency of science and as a result all sorts of shenanigans go on. When I looked at the article again, I see it’s almost 10 years old. So has anything changed?

I’m not sure it has. This is in spite of many journals now including a section where each author’s contribution is listed. In my time in science I’ve been left off a couple of paper’s that I contributed data to, had a leading group not cite my work so they could get their paper into a higher impact journal by claiming novelty, and a number of times been shafted with my position on the list of authors not reflecting my contribution. I’ve also had a number of authors foisted on me for ‘political’ reasons.

My favourite line in Chris’ article is:

“Before a single beaker gets rinsed, the question of authorship has to be laid on the table”

This must be one of the most important pieces of advice for a scientist to follow. I have to admit that I almost never do this. Maybe this is why I’ve been shafted so many times. When I start out on a piece of research, I’m not thinking about the papers but the science being addressed. It seems both presumptive and rude to be talking about papers at that early stage!

So how do others do it? I’d be really interested to hear what you think!