On 11 September 2023 Jack Grove wrote an article for the Times Higher Education called “Swap Authorship for ‘Movie Credits’ Approach, Academics Suggest”¹. His article discusses a paper “from the League of European Research Universities (Leru) [which] proposes that the notion of an ‘author’ has become obsolete in those research fields where dozens of authors – or sometimes hundreds – are listed on a published paper.”¹ Large numbers of authors are not typical for library and information science articles, but collaborative writing is increasingly common as the pressure to publish increases not just for those who have professorships, but for those looking for positions and promotions, and for those needing a more substantial resume. In some fields the traditional first author, second author sequencing can mask the level of contribution, since first authors often get the primary credit even if they are sometimes only first due to the first letter of their last name.
Frits Rosendaal from Leiden University suggests “that each contributor could be given a paragraph at the end of a paper to describe their contribution in their own words…”¹ He offers a music metaphor: “Science should not be treated like a football match where someone wins…It’s more like the Royal Philharmonic, where people come together to produce a piece of music. You need everyone and even the person who plays the triangle should be named in the programme.”¹ The result could be explanations about the contributions that are longer than the paper, but it also could also mean greater fairness and transparency.
One of the inevitable questions for such a model is how universities would value the individual contributions, especially when they are unequal. What is the relative value of data collection versus data analysis? And is the overall initial concept for a paper ultimately worth more than the contributions of people (often doctoral students), who invest time and effort in the detailed work? The orchestra metaphor could imply that the academic conductor still gets first author credit, even though without the first violin, the performance may fail. There are no easy answers, but the proposal exposes one of the weaknesses in how universities value authorship.
1: Jack Grove, ‘Swap Authorship for “Movie Credits” Approach, Academics Suggest’, Times Higher Education (THE), 11 September 2023,https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/swap-authorship-movie-credits-approach-academics-suggest.