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Monday, November 05, 2007

Did you really write that paper?

It happens sometimes that the job done by a single scientist get published with more than his name on it. He's usually the first author, except in Italy and other third world countries, where some professors pretend them to be on top. He's relegated to second place, unless the professor above has a favorite pupil who needs a push to get/stay into the tenure track.

Anyway, this post is not about unjust usurpation of authorship at the hand of elder academics. It is rather on the careless co-authorships practiced in some research groups, where all those belonging share authorships to any papers so as to augment their paper count in their CVs. Bad, bad practice indeed, especially when they happen to admit candidly during an interview "Oh, no, I didn't really know anything about that work, I was in the group so I got my name on it" - then why on earth did you insert it in your CV as relevant qualification, you dumb4$$?

I was shocked when a colleague recently said that after two years of work she had eight publications, plus countless posters and participations to meetings. needless to say, seven of those eight were of the aforementioned kind. And who on earth would care about which meetings and school you attended, unless you presented one at the first or were prized as best-in-class at the latters?

I try to put only first-author papers on my CV. which also implies it is desperately short. But at least I know I can defend that work with my claws, whereas if somebody is mifdly interested in me can always look up the other papers on pubmed or elsewhere and discover which fields I also happened to brush on. I probably know more than the average person in those, but don't claim nor brag to being an expert about them.

Why am I doing this post, you may ask? Oh, because Nature just came out with a similar theme this weekend. With a wider view than mine, in fact, covering the responsibilities of co-authors on the scientific accuracy of the papers, real-world cases and so on. Go and read it, it's certainly better than my rants anyway.

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