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[Computational Complexity] Contributions of Co-Authors

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  • Lance
    Guest Post from Jrmy Barbay . In multi-authors publications from other fields (biology, physics), the order of the author s names roughly indicates the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 26, 2006
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      Guest Post from Jérémy Barbay.

      In multi-authors publications from other fields (biology, physics), the order of the author's names roughly indicates the importance of the contribution from each author, while this is not the case in CS. I was told that it was to avoid meaningless fights about the order, but in my personal experience I found out that it created other conflicts, mainly the frustration of the main author toward co-author who did not "contribute enough."

      The fact is, not recognizing the difference of importance in relative contributions pushes to two quite negative behaviors:

      1. Some authors will expect all co-authors to contribute an equal part to the paper, and be disappointed and frustrated when it is not the case. This is bad either way: having a frustrated co-author is not a nice experience, but on the other hand trying to balance the work so that each co-author contributes the same amount does not necessarily corresponds to the balance of skills for the particular publication, and may not be the most efficient way to work on a paper.
      2. Authors have an incentive to play the game of the "minimum contribution deserving authorship", eventually (for the highest in the academic hierarchy) pushing the other authors to contribute more in exchange of immaterial promises (such as future recommendations, or the "teaching" by experience). I was explained by a senior faculty that "students have to accept to eat a lot of shit (meaning, do a lot of stupid work), and young faculty to eat some shit but to pass down to their student most of it".
      Both those behaviors are bad for the community in general. I saw it literally destroying a brilliant Ph.D. student, and I see its perverse effects on some promising younger students. Ranking the names of the authors is but a poor palliative: they are many measures of contributions on which to argue and I still see frustration among my fellow biologists and physicists.

      One obvious solution would be to add a paragraph at the end of each paper, in a similar way to the "acknowledgement" paragraph commonly added, describing the contribution of each author. It would be a natural way to create an incentive for each author to contribute as much as this paper is worth to him, inversing the "minimum contribution deserving authorship" incentive, and remove most of the frustration. It would remove the ambiguity on "who did what", that we have anyway to explicitly remove when writing recommendation letters or applying for "best student paper". From a game theory point of view (for the little of game theory that I know), it would make the publication mechanism "truthful", and anybody opposing this mechanism would risk to look bad.

      Now, I assume that this solution has some hidden drawback(s) (other than taking an additional five lines in each publication), as otherwise some field or other would already have adopted it. Or is it just that senior faculty members would not support such a measure?

      Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 9/26/2006 03:54:00 PM

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