Cross-national differences complicate allocation of credit and responsibility
Among scientists, authorship is a very big deal—and for good reason. It not only establishes the record of scientific progress but also stakes a scientist’s claim to originality and priority. As sociologist Robert Merton noted decades ago, recognition for original work is the coin of the realm in science. Authorship is the basis for promotion, tenure, salary, honors and invitations to participate in prestigious initiatives. It is important for collaborating authors to get it right.
Getting it right seems like a simple and straightforward task: Include those who contributed to the project and omit those who did not. Most scientists, however, have encountered situations in which coauthors disagreed about who should be included on a publication or in what order they should be listed. In a recent study, two of us and our colleague Brian Martinson found that 12 percent of midcareer scientists admitted that they had inappropriately assigned authorship credit within the previous three years. Such situations may reflect competitive pressures in science or disputes among authors.
Problems with authorship are complicated enough in domestic research, but they can be particularly thorny in the context of international scientific collaborations. Whether authorship disagreements are more common in international or domestic research is an open question, but some aspects of cross-national collaboration do complicate authorship decisions.