Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Acknowledging Author Contributions to Papers

Yesterday, I had a quick look at a news item published on the Italian on-line science magazine Galileo. (Warning: It's in Italian.) The news item describes work on computational biology carried out by Niko Beerenwinkel (ETH Zürich) and co-workers. The authors develop a new mathematical model for the somatic evolution of colorectal cancers and use it to derive an analytical approximation for the expected waiting time to the cancer phenotype.

This all sounds very interesting, but what caught my eye as a casual observer was the following information on page 19 of the resulting paper.

Author Contributions
K.W.K., V.E.V., and B.V. performed experiments; N.B., T.A., D.D., A.T., and M.A.N. developed the mathematical model; and N.B., T.A., D.D., B.V., and M.A.N. wrote the paper.
Have any of you ever written anything similar on any of your papers? I wonder what similar piece of text might accompany a TCS paper. Will we ever see a TCS article stating anything like the following piece of text?

X and Y proved Lemmas 1-4 and Theorem 2, Z proved Theorem 1, contributed ideas to the proof of Lemma 3 and found an error in the original proof of Theorem 1. Author W wrote the paper and was the main driving force in previous joint work that led to the development of this paper.

And what about papers that also report on implementations? I can't imagine how detailed the description of author contributions would have to be then.

I feel relieved to live in a research environment where we collaborate and mainly use alphabetical order amongst the authors---and not just because my surname is Aceto :-) I personally like to work by closely following the Hardy-Littlewood Rules for collaboration, whose spirit is very much at odds with the identification of author contributions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the author contributions were included so that not everybody gets blamed if it is discovered that some of the data was fabricated.