Do you still know all your coauthors?

Collaboration sizes increase across all scientific disciplines, and Ecology is no exception to this trend. One of the problems emerging from this development is that it seems more and more difficult to remember all your coauthors. This recent erratum in Nature adds no less than five forgotten coauthors, in addition to correcting various names and funding sources.


It’s somewhat puzzling because of course all coauthors must have read the final manuscript, but then again, when one is busy publishing Nature papers on a daily basis, who has the time to check his/her own name? At least this author group noticed their mistakes pretty fast, would be interesting if this is because the forgotten authors read the article and remembered that they contributed? If that is so, it’s a bad sign for the readership coverage of Ecology Letters, because in the next example from EL, it took more than a year to note that some people were missing.


Ah well, better late than never, and still better than this example from an older post where two authors “forgot” to include the person who then became the last author of their paper 😉

4 thoughts on “Do you still know all your coauthors?

  1. Pingback: Friday links: p-hacking=posterior hacking, #montypythonscience, forgotten co-authors (oops!), and more | Dynamic Ecology

  2. Florian,
    The process of having lead (imperfectly – as you have noted 🙂 a couple of multi-author projects leaves with me with a few thoughts for your blog:

    A burgeoning culture of data sharing and big data is pushing the field of ecology forward in fantastic ways in terms of scientific discovery.
    It also brings some challenges.
    Deciding which contributions warrant authorship is not entirely black and white. This is an especially grey area for long-term studies, where numerous people have contributed to a single dataset over the years.
    Authors of a multi-person projects rely on a smaller subset of data providers to populate the potential author list. It’s not an ideal system. Even with guidelines for authorship firmly established, individual scientists vary dramatically in their assessment of contributions that warrant coauthorship.

    It’s also led me to think more about better ways to appropriately credit the contributions of individual researchers who contribute data to syntheses and/or responsibly archive their datasets *without having authorship as the sole currency of reward*
    Mandatory data archiving and tracking data citations is one obvious step in the right direction.
    A more radical (and unpopular!) suggestion is that we don’t all deserve lifelong citation credits for data. Perhaps data collected with federal funds just isn’t owned by anyone after a while. This isn’t a great incentive system for data archiving, but might be the morally correct one.
    Transparency in author contributions is another easy path, and I’m happy to see many journals now requesting this short description.

    I’m not sure where to go beyond that, without making the system overly burdensome. I don’t want to fill out and publish a matrix of contribution types for each of my collaborators, although as a thought exercise it’s kind of entertaining (data Y/N –> if Y, were data formatted correctly Y/N –> if N were sufficient metadata provided to fix it Y/N;
    Comments provided on manuscript Y/N –> if Y, were comments helpful Y/N –> if N, did s/he send nice apologetic email about why better comments weren’t possible right now)

    I’d welcome some good suggestions.

    I can’t speak to the Nature article, you may be right that ‘of course all coauthors must have read the final manuscript’, but I’d encourage you to read the fine print. In our particular case, the precise contributions of the late-breaking authors was quite explicitly worded.

    • Hi Sarah,

      first of all, apologies just in case you felt I was picking on you, I was reading my text again and realized one might interpret this as a big complaint, but I really just meant to do a fun post along the lines of “Oooops”. So don’t take my remarks too serious, specially about noting the missing authors late, it’s clear that this is bound to happen in large collaborations and it could have happened to me just as well.

      Nevertheless, I find your comments very interesting and worth thinking about more … at the moment all these multi-author papers are coming out and it seems to me that in ecology it is tacitly assumed that contributing data to such a paper warrants co-authorship.

      I’m teaching a course about research soft-skills such as writing etc. here, where we cover question of authorship as well, and I’m always at at mess, because when you read the rules of good scientific practice of the German Science foundation below, they explicitly state that provision of data alone doesn’t warrant authorship and also otherwise they are quite different to the rules often applied in practice. So I tend to say the students something like: well, this are the official rules by the German Science Foundation which are largely accepted by the German universities, but you know, then there are other rules as well – not very satisfying. I wonder how this is in other fields, for example whether data-sharing alone is considered to justify authorship in Molecular Biology, Physics or Chemistry.

      From :

      Authors of an original scientific publication shall be all those, and only those, who have made significant contributions to the conception of studies or experiments, to the generation, analysis and interpretation of the data, and to preparing the manuscript, and who have consented to its publication, thereby assuming responsibility for it. Some journals demand that this be documented through the signatures of all authors. Others ask for a written statement to this effect by the corresponding author as the person responsible for a manuscript as a whole and in all its details. Where not all authors can assume responsibility for the entire content of a publication, some journals recommend an identification of individual contributions (24).

      Therefore, the following contributions on their own are not sufficient to justify
      ► merely organisational responsibility for obtaining the funds for the research,
      ► providing standard investigation material,
      ► the training of staff in standard methods,
      ► merely technical work on data collection,
      ► merely technical support, such as only providing equipment or experimental
      ► regularly providing datasets only,
      ► only reading the manuscript without substantial contributions to its content,
      ► directing an institution or working unit in which the publication originates.

  3. Pingback: Is the PEG model paper an indicator of changing authorship criteria? | Dynamic Ecology

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