Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On authorship...life in a mega-collaboration

Scientific collaborations have rapidly increased in size over the past 40 years, with particle and nuclear physics leading the way.    Groups of half a dozen researchers have given way to mega-collaborations comprising thousands of people - 2,800 authors in the case of the ATLAS experiment at the LHC.  

The enormous growth in size has led to inevitable changes.   Large organizations require structure; in the case of scientific collaborations, this includes written rules (governance documents), elections for leaders, usually called 'spokespersons' (to emphasize that their job is to represent the collaboration), committees, and more committees.  

These developments are driven, for the most part, by the demands of the science, which require large complex detectors, and ever more detailed analyses.   In many areas, large groups are required to make progress.  These developments raise a number of sociological questions.  To me, one of the more interesting questions is what it means to be an author in a large collaboration. 

Recently, I wrote  guest post for Retraction Watch, entitled, "When it takes a village to write a paper, what does it mean to be an author?" that goes into this question in more detail.  I may be biased, but I think it is worth reading.

If you haven't heard of it, Retraction Watch is a blog that covers retractions in the scientific literature, whether due to mistake or misconduct.  They also have interesting articles (and links) to pieces that discuss authorship and other ethical issues, including on the 'business' of science.