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asked in Open Science by (318 points)

Should people who

  • wrote code 
  • did data entry 
  • helped with writing the manuscript in good english 
  • helped finding ideas 
  • are the department head 
  • ...

be coauthors / mentioned in the acknowlegements / ... ? 

This question is related to https://ask-open-science.org/807/practices-granting-authorships-deciding-authorship-improved

2 Answers

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answered by (318 points)

This question was discussed on the Munich ROCS mailing list and this is a curation of what we came up with:


There are rules that help in the decision for coauthorship:

Authors should be those who

  • Were involved in Concept/Planing or Execution 

  • Writing of Manuscript or Critical Revision (not mere editing)

  • Agreed to publication.

Others should be mentioned in the acknowledgements

  • Organisational Responsibility for Funding 
  • Material Contribution 
  • Technical Contribution 
  • Method – Instruction 
  • Institution/Department Lead 
  • Proofreading

We found that these rules, however, are applied in different ways in different fileds (e.g. in astronomy the people at the telescope get to be coauthors even if the don't contribute to anything but executing the measurements).

The authors in [3] propose to use a table for specifying the contributions made. For an example paper where this was done see https://arxiv.org/pdf/1611.10288.pdf.

ConceptualizationIdeas; formulation or evolution of overarching research goals and aims
MethodologyDevelopment or design of methodology; creation of models
SoftwareProgramming, software development; designing computer programs; implementation of the computer code and supporting algorithms; testing of existing code components
ValidationVerification, whether as a part of the activity or separate, of the overall replication/reproducibility of results/experiments and other research outputs
Formal AnalysisApplication of statistical, mathematical, computational, or other formal techniques to analyze or synthesize study data
InvestigationConducting a research and investigation process, specifically performing the experiments, or data/evidence collection
ResourcesProvision of study materials, reagents, materials, patients, laboratory samples, animals, instrumentation, computing resources, or other analysis tools
Data curationManagement activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the data itself) for initial use and later reuse
Writing – Original DraftPreparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically writing the initial draft (including substantive translation)
Writing – Review & EditingPreparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work by those from the original research group, specifically critical review, commentary or revision – including pre- or post-publication stages
VisualizationPreparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically visualization/data presentation
SupervisionOversight and leadership responsibility for the research activity planning and execution, including mentorship external to the core team
Project AdministrationManagement and coordination responsibility for the research activity planning and execution
Funding acquisitionAcquisition of the financial support for the project leading to this publication

The social aspect

Some of us found that there is more to the authorship discussion than rules. Less experienced scientists often don't have a say in who gets to be coauthors or some scientists don't dare to open a discussion on the rules or regret doing so if they do. This is, of course, not always the case and sometimes the lead author (which is often a PhD student) gets to decide on the author list.

Using a table as shown above to specify contributions made could be very helpful, especially if it is clear to all contributors from the start that it will be used. Discussing these things early on is often mentioned (e.g. in [2]).

But in the end scientists are people (often ones with strong opinions and ones who aim high). So would you risk a relationship with a collaborator / your supervisor about a discussion about authorship?

Further reading

If you are interested in more, here are some helpful infos:

  1. Authorship in scientific publications: analysis and recommendations by the Scientific Integrity Committee of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences 

  2. How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers by Tim Albert and Elizabeth Wager  

  3. Beyond authorship: attribution, contribution, collaboration, and credit by Amy Brand, Liz Allen, Micah Altman, Marjorie Hlava and Jo Scott

Please feel free to add further links and references in the comments!

3 like 0 dislike
answered by (745 points)

Here is what the DFG (German Research Foundation) recommends:

Als Autoren einer wissenschaftlichen Originalveröffentlichung sollen alle
diejenigen, aber auch nur diejenigen, firmieren, die zur Konzeption der Studi-
en oder Experimente, zur Erarbeitung, Analyse und Interpretation der Daten
und zur Formulierung des Manuskripts selbst wesentlich beigetragen und sei-
ner Veröffentlichung zugestimmt haben, das heißt, sie verantwortlich mittra-
My translation: “All of those and only those shall be named as authors of an original research publication who themselves substantially contributed to the conception of the studies or experiments, to data collection, analysis and interpretation, and to the wording of the manuscript – and who agreed to its publication, thereby taking responsibility for it.”
Note the “and” in “and to the wording”. I'm not sure if they really meant that or “or”.
Further below, the DFG also lists examples for contributions that do not justify authorship status:
bloß organisatorische Verantwortung für die Einwerbung von Fördermitteln,
Beistellung von Standard-Untersuchungsmaterialien,
Unterweisung von Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern in Standard-Methoden,
lediglich technische Mitwirkung bei der Datenerhebung,
lediglich technische Unterstützung, zum Beispiel bloße Beistellung von Geräten, Versuchstieren,
regelmäßig die bloße Überlassung von Datensätzen,
alleiniges Lesen des Manuskripts ohne substanzielle Mitgestaltung des Inhalts,
Leitung einer Institution oder Organisationseinheit, in der die Publikation
entstanden ist
Again, my translation of examples of contributions that do not justify authorship status:
  • mere organisational responsibility for the acquisition of funds
  • providing standard research material
  • teaching standard methods to researchers
  • merely technical contributions to the collection of data
  • merely technical support, e.g. providing equipment or lab animals
  • regularly merely providing datasets
  • merely reading the manuscript without substantially contributing to its contents
  • leading an institution (or part of it) where the publication was created
In a press release, the DFG stressed that “Ehrenautorenschaft” (honorary or gratuitous authorship) is not acceptable.

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