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[My Computational Complexity Web Log] The Co-Author Conundrum

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  • Lance
    In theoretical computer science we traditionally list the co-authors of our papers alphabetically. Done this way for fairness it leads to a binary notion of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 29, 2004
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      In theoretical computer science we traditionally list the co-authors of our papers alphabetically. Done this way for "fairness" it leads to a binary notion of author. Either you are an equal author of a paper or you are off the paper. There is no middle ground.

      In our publish or perish society, authoring papers helps you succeed, in getting hired, promoted and receiving grants and awards. So choosing who is an author of a paper, particularly important papers, can be an important and sometimes messy decision complicated by the fact that the authors have to do the choosing.

      An author should have made significant contributions to a paper. But how do we define significant? A person who produces key ideas in the proof of a main result certainly becomes an author. A person who simply writes up the proof should not be. But what about the person who works out the messy but straightforward details in a proof? What about the person who poses the questions but has no role in the proof? Tricky situations that one needs to handle on a case-by-case basis.

      An advisor should hold him or herself to a higher standard. A good advisor guides the research for a student and should not become a co-author unless the advisor had made the majority of the important ideas in the proofs. Likewise we hold students to a slightly lower standard to get them involved in research and exposition of their work.

      Computer scientists tend to add co-authors generously. While seemingly nice, this makes it difficult to judge the role authors have played in a paper, and sometimes makes who you know or where you are more important than what you know.

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      Posted by Lance to My Computational Complexity Web Log at 10/29/2004 08:43:37 AM

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