Author contributions audit

As part of our ongoing discussion about the accountability of authors and co-authors (comments are still very welcome), I decided to take a snapshot look at the popularity of Author Contributions statements in Nature. We strongly encourage authors to make these statments, specifying the ways in which the authors contributed to the paper, but we do not make it mandatory. Should that change? Part of the answer to that question lies in how useful authors find the idea. So it is of interest to note that in the past three or four issues of Nature, about half of the Articles and Letters (primary research) carried contributions statements. Here are some examples, all from the same issue of Nature (1 November 2007):

J.L., J.R.S. and J.W.L. conceived the Brainbow strategies. J.R.S. and J.W.L. supervised the project. J.L. built initial constructs and validated them in vitro and in vivo. T.A.W. performed all cerebellar axonal tracing and colour profile analysis with programs developed with J. Lu. H.K. performed all live imaging experiments. R.W.D. generated Brainbow-1.0 lines expressing cytoplasmic XFPs, and R.A.B. generated Brainbow-1.1 constructs and lines. J.L., T.A.W. and R.W.D. screened mouse lines.

S.H.C. designed and performed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper; N.C., M.T. and J.M.G. designed and performed experiments; D.R. and M.B.G. developed analytical tools; and C.I.B. designed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper.

(more on the post continuation page)

All authors contributed equally to this work. A.C. and J.H.H. conducted the observations at the telescope. A.C. reduced the data, and P.W.L. performed the Monte Carlo modelling. A.C. wrote the main paper, and P.W.L. wrote the Supplementary Information. All authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

S.T.G., B.B.-L. and D.E.A. designed the experiment. S.D.P. and D.E.A. assembled input data, and B.B.-L. and S.D.P. wrote code, ran the model, and analysed output data. B.B.-L. administered the experiment and wrote the manuscript.

P.J.M. jointly conceived the study with A.H., designed and implemented the simulation model, and prepared the manuscript; A.H. created the analytic model with contributions from H.J.E. and P.J.M, supervised its analysis and edited the manuscript; H.J.E. analysed and described the analytic model, carried out the stochastic implementation of the simulation model, and edited the manuscript.

T.S. designed the study. T.S. and E.A.P. interpreted the data and wrote the paper. T.S. and A.M.R. developed stimuli, gathered behavioural pilot data, and conducted behavioural data analysis. T.S. gathered fMRI data. T.S. conducted neuroimaging analyses with the help of A.M.R. and C.M.R., and with advice of E.A.P. Whole-brain exploratory analysis was conducted by C.M.R.

T.J. and U.H.v.A. designed the study; T.J., E.A.M., M.I., S.M. and P.A.L. performed experiments; T.J., E.A.M., M.I. and S.M. collected and analysed data; M.B., K.F., N.C.D.P., D.M.S., N.v.R. and S.P.W. provided reagents and mice; T.J., E.A.M., M.I. and U.H.v.A. wrote the manuscript; S.M., K.F., S.E.H., T.M. and S.P.W. gave technical support and conceptual advice.

S.C.W., P.R.J.B., P.v.W. and I.K.T developed the concept and designed experiments. S.C.W. and S.G. performed P. infestans transformations and plant inoculations. P.C.B. carried out confocal microscopy and advised on cell biology. S.C.W. performed GUS assays and light microscopy. A.O.A. and J.G.M. quantified gene expression. Antibody detection of tagged transformants was performed by I.H. and S.C. L.M., J.G.M., E.M.G. and M.R.A. carried out experiments with P. atrosepticum. L.P. conducted all bioinformatics analyses.

Y.O. and Y.Z. designed the experiments and prepared the manuscript. Y.O. performed the experiments. G.S., M.K.R. and Y.M. generated the chimaera mice from the BayGenomics ES clone.

A.P.W., R.P.-J. and J.M.F. designed the experiments. A.P.W. and R.P.-J. performed the experiments and analysed the data. K.A.W. designed the kinetic model and performed error analysis. F.G. and B.J.B. performed molecular dynamics simulations. A.H. provided TRX. J.M.S.-R. provided Trx and Trx(P34H). A.P.W., F.G., K.A.W., R.P.-J. and J.M.F. wrote the paper.


  1. Report this comment

    Bill said:

    All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

    I think this one rather defeats the purpose, don’t you?

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    Maxine said:

    Maxine replies: Thanks for your comment, Bill. At first glance, I can see why you and others may think that. However, I was quite pleased to see that statement at the end of that paper. To my mind, there is a large class of scientific paper where you can’t cleanly divide up what all the authors did as separate contributions. Some papers are very integrated in that way, they are not a question of one person doing an analysis, another the experiment and another the writing, all the authors may share these tasks (and others). Hence I thought it interesting that those authors chose to write a short sentence saying that they all take responsibility for the paper — there are no honorary authors here.

    The alternative would be to have no declaration for papers like this one. This would certainly be one option, but a lot of the debate about fraud and the definition of “authorship” at the moment seems to be about actually stating that you are accoutable for one part or, in this example you give, all parts of a paper. So I think it may not be as unnecessary as it first may seem. It would be interesting to know what others think about that.

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    martin said:

    Look at this, interresting:

    Since April 2008, “stem cells” journal has started to include authors’ contributions in a way that it is published together with the abstract in Pubmed.

    It is a nice thing to have freely and immediately accessible: who did what. I think it gives a new quality (importance, relevance) to the information, moreover it forces authors to be precise and honest.

    The best thing is that such an “effective tool” needs nothing else but the will of the publisher.

    I really really like this easy nice trick!

    Hopefuly other journals will follow this idea 🙂

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    Sarah said:

    Why not insist in adherence to the ICMJE “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals” that clearly spell out criteria for authorship?

    Authorship credit should be based on

    1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data

    2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content

    3) final approval of the version to be published

    Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3.

    In my view, this would eliminate the authors listed above who only constributed general supervisory support to the project and probably the authors who “made and validated the original constructs” or “provided reagents and mice”, the data for which were presumably published already and do not alone justify authorship on any subsequent paper using these constructs or animals.

    By encouraging use of the acknowledgements rubric, other contributors who do not qualify for authorship can be listed by name.

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    Louis Viollet said:

    First team gave the clinical data and the DNA from the family/ patients

    Second team localized and identified the mutation in the gene

    Third team made the functionnal analyses of the mutation

    Fourth team made the KO in mouse, producing a similar phenotype.

    Is that possible to put the names of authors of the first and second teams as equally contributors in first position

    and to put the names of authors of third and fourth teams as equally contributors in last position?

    Thanks for your answer

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