Sunday, August 3, 2014

Authorship: Who gets credit?

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham 
Several things have gotten me thinking about issues of authorship. I've been publishing quite a bit with student co-authors lately, so this is an active topic with me and my students. In fact, authorship is most commonly a topic of concern when students are involved. Should students get authorship credit on published articles? How is this determined? Many professional societies have explicit principles and guidelines about this. The Society for American Archaeology evidently does not have any guidelines. The American Anthropological Association has a brief statement in its Code of Ethics stating that faculty should not steal data and credit from deserving students. Okay, but that is not particularly helpful.

I recently came across some personal authorship guidelines I had written up a few years ago. They correspond to my normal practice, and they agree with published discussion of this issue in the professional literature (see references below). My emphasis when I wrote these up initially was on the use of artifacts and data from my fieldwork projects, but the principles apply more widely.

(1) People who participate intensively and creatively in the research described in the work usually deserve authorship. Basic data-gathering under the direction and supervision of another does not qualify one for authorship. Thus student supervisors on an excavation typically do not qualify for authorship, whereas students or others who are involved in the design of the fieldwork and other aspects of the research may qualify for authorship. Students who apply someone else’s classification to a group of artifacts in the lab typically do not get authorship, whereas students who design and carry out a specific artifact study, establishing their own procedures, classifications, and datafiles, usually qualify for authorship. Authorship implies intellectual and practical contributions beyond simply supervising excavations or carrying out artifact classifications designed by another person.
(2) Authorship implies that each author has contributed directly to the compilation or analysis of some part of the data described in the article and/or the development of some of the ideas in the article.
(3) Authorship implies that each author has contributed directly to the writing and editing of the article (and that each has seen the final submitted version).
(4) Authorship should be discussed openly among the relevant individuals. It is best to discuss expectations and possible outcomes early in the research process, and then refine and revise the publication plans as the research and writing proceeds.
(5) The contributions of individual authors to multi-authored papers should be described explicitly and concisely in the paper (typically in the acknowledgements section or in a note).

Case study 1:  I always have a bunch of undergrads working in my lab at ASU on various research projects. Normally, they help with data collecting, data entry, and such, and thus they rarely quality for authorship on publications. But several of us did a study applying the Gini index to some central Mexican sites (it's under review right now). I had two anthropology majors gather some data, not thinking that they would end up being authors of a paper. One (Emily Colon) was asked to transcribe some documentary data to Excel so that we could analyze it. We ran into a roadblock and needed to find a way around some missing information (how do you calculate the area of a field if only a single dimension is given?). When I started to tell Emily how to proceed, I found she had already done the next step on her own, without guidance (finding relevant sources, looking for patterns, reaching a conclusion). By taking the initiative and helping devise a method to overcome the missing information, she made a creative intellectual contribution to the research, so she became an author. I asked the other undergrad, Rebecca Harkness, to look at maps of Teotihuacan apartment compounds so that we could figure out how households fit into the rooms. She went to town on this and, on her own initiative, devised a method for calculating the number of individual apartments, based on principles of space syntax. This was also a creative scientific contribution to the research, and she became another author. The other two authors are graduate students (Tim Dennehy and April Kamp-Whittaker), who made numerous contributions to the research and to the writing. I made sure each of the students wrote up their particular part of the project, so the paper is truly a joint production. We did discuss authorship openly, and we indicate in the acknowledgements who made what contribution to the paper.

Case study 2: After directing two seasons of my first post-PhD fieldwork project, I published a paper (in JFA) describing the houses we had excavated. I was feeling expansive and generous, and put all of the student excavation supervisors on the article as authors. While it made me feel warm and nice to give credit to these people who helped make the excavations a success, I probably should not have listed everyone as authors. I designed the methods, with only limited input from most of the students. After my next excavation, at Yautepec, I wrote a parallel paper on the excavated houses. This time, the paper had only three authors: me, Cindy (my wife), and Lisa Montiel. The other excavation supervisors did a good job and I have acknowledged their contributions in various ways. But Cindy and Lisa were the ones who most helped design our excavation strategy and methods, I gave them the most difficult excavations, and they helped train other students. They also contributed more than the other students to the write-up of the excavations. So they deserved authorship to a far greater degree than the other students.

Of the concerns in the scholarly publishing literature (see citations below) are the issues of "honorary authorship" (authors whose name are added to a paper, but who have not contributed directly to writing it) and "ghost authorship" (major contributors to the research and writing whose names are left off the author list). I admit I'm a bit confused about the latter practice. I guess I could write a paper with some students, and then remove my name from the published version. I take a very practical view of collaboration. If I make a major contribution to the research and writing, then I am a co-author. If a student does the work and writes the paper on his or her own, then I don't need to be an author.

One of the best sources of insight into ethical issues such as authorship is the booklet, "On Being a Scientist." If you haven't read this, you should. You can download a copy for free. Seidemann (2004) is an interesting study of authorship and other student issues in archaeology, by a legal scholar published in a law journal. It's rarely cited by archaeologists, though.

Fine, Mark A. and Lawrence A. Kurdek
1993    Reflections on Determining Authorship Credit and Authorship Order on Faculty-Student Collaborations. American Psychologist 48: 1141-1147.

National Academy of Sciences2009    On Being A Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research. 3rd ed. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. .

Pimple, Kenneth D.
2012    Authorship in Scientific and Academic Research. CORE Issues in Professional and Research Ethics 1: Paper 4.

Seidemann, Ryan M.
2004    Authorship and Control: Ethnical and Legal Issues of Student Research in Archaeology. Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology 14: 451-496.

Seidemann, Ryan M.
2006    Authorship Credit and Ethics in Anthropology. Anthropology News 47 (1): 29-31.


Michael E. Smith said...

Here is an interesting authorship issue that suggests one of two ethical violations were at work. This case is not in archaeology. A student completes a dissertation. Shortly thereafer a paper is published in a journal, coauthored by the student and his or her graduate adviser. The paper is allegedly a close copy of one of the dissertation chapters.

Scenario A: The adviser has horned in on the publication credit, as an honorary author. The publication should have been a single-author paper by the new Ph.D.

Scenario B: The dissertation chapter was co-written by the adviser. In this case the authorship credit is fine, but I don't think faculty are supposed to co-author dissertation chapters...

Dan Eisenberg said...

I think the ghost authorship thing is generally part of corruption by pharmaceutical companies who want to disguise their associations with a publication and facilitate it saying what they want it to say.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Dan - You are probably correct. I'm having trouble thinking of an archaeological situation where this might apply. I suppose that if I worked with looters or commercial art collectors to describe some nice looted Aztec artifacts they had in their possession, and they wanted to publish their finds, I'd rather not have my name on the publication. But then those archaeologists who DO work with commercial dealers and collectors of looted art don't seem shy about putting their names on publications about the material.

I turned down an invitation a few years ago to give a lecture at an event featuring looted Aztec art. Maybe I thereby gave up my chance to be a ghost author. But the one thing that bummed me out about declining that invitation was that I would not be able to say on my CV that I had given a lecture in the guitar-shaped auditorium of the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock, Texas. "Oh boy!"