Saturday, May 16, 2015

1,000 Authors

The explosion in the number of authors on papers has gone into the stratosphere. Nature reports on a recent paper on fruit flies:

Author lists have grown lengthy in many fields of science, but when a Drosophila genomics paper was published with more than 1,000 authors, it sparked discussion online about the meaning of authorship. The paper, published in the journal G3: Genes Genomes Genetics, names 1,014 authors — with more than 900 undergraduate students among them.

This really questions who does what. Why not include the cleaning crew, the folks who built the building, the manufacturing team on the sequencer.

The problem is that it is now impossible to determine who did what. Watson and Crick was enough. Nobel prizes are given to at most three people. This is akin to a new bumper sticker, "My Teenager is an author of a major research paper!" We seem to be going unstable.