It is no secret that industry labs are competing with academia at a pace never seen before. Most of the tech conferences now are dominated by industries with superior funding, human resources, and data.

What surprises me is that papers from industry are often written by a large number of authors. In fact, whenever I see a citation/reference with a whole string of authors, I can immediately predict that it comes from industry labs. Why is this the case?

For example, this very short and simple looking paper from Google is authored by 9 people.

Here is another very brief paper from Google, similar to the style of an undergraduate project. Now why is 12 people needed to put it together?

Take a look at another paper from Facebook. What looks to me to be a survey paper with no simulation or any equation required 17 authors.

Or this, again, very short joint paper from Apple, Facebook, Google. Why 11 authors?

Why does this Google paper (that has three labeled equations in total) require 16 authors? Are these people gaming the publication/citation count system or what.

Why does this other Google paper require 31 authors? Am I to believe that they all contributed equally?

Can someone please chime in as to why these papers require so many authors? I say many because I've seen student projects or theses written by a single person that (more than) rivals the depth of those papers that require some 15 people to write.

  • 2
    "Am I to believe that they all contributed equally?": In general, you should not expect authors of a paper to contribute equally. And, in general again, the fact that a work can be done by a single author, doesn't mean that it should (if you have them, you may put 10 people doing the work in 1/10th of the time). Sep 3, 2018 at 5:29
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    "It is no secret that industry labs are competing with academia at a pace never seen before," really? Fortune suggested the opposite in their article entitled "The Death of American Research and Development" (fortune.com/2015/12/21/death-american-research-and-development), which appeared just a few years ago.
    – user2768
    Sep 3, 2018 at 7:16
  • 5
    Trust me, as an astronomer, 30+ authors is not a large amount. That's just what you get when working in a large collaboration. Sep 3, 2018 at 7:41
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    And, from your final paragraph, there are also papers produced by teams that would be impossible for a single person to achieve...
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 3, 2018 at 8:17
  • Try looking at the Higgs discovery paper :-D Feb 25, 2021 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: results in industrial practice are often much more of a product of team work, rather than the "every student works on their own thesis" model that we usually have in academia. This is also reflected in the length of author lists.

The work mode of an industry lab (or, even worse, of a group of day-to-dat software engineers in industry who just happened to become involved with a paper) is typically different to your average academic lab. To wit:

Academic project (simplified, of course):

Somebody (a PI, the student themselves, or somebody in between) has an idea for a research paper. A person (often, but not necessarily, a student) takes responsibility for executing it, and collaborates with their advisor and, maybe, one or two other students on executing it. Importantly, for this "driver" of the project it is usually of high importance (because it goes into their thesis in the case of a student), and they invest a significant portion of their time on it. The other collaborators usually only invest time in specific roles (giving feedback, doing specific analyses, helping with paper writing, etc.). In short, there is often one person responsible for bringing the project all the way.

Industrial project (particularly in the case when a software company is reporting on aspects of their practice, as in many of your examples):

Somebody (often a member of the research division of the company, sometimes an academia-affine practitioner) has an idea for a paper. They start working on it, but they cannot commit more than a fraction of their time on it (because even for industrial researchers, writing papers is often much less a core focus of their job profile than for students or academic staff), so they gather collaborators, who likewise cannot put more than a few hours here and there on the project. Additionally, for such "report of a practice" kind of papers, many people have typically contributed to establishing the practice, and it is bad tone to leave out key players (unless they don't want to contribute to the paper). In short, while there may be a coordinating person as well, nobody really has the time to work on this paper full-time, and many people have somehow contributed to the work being reported on, so automatically the author list swells.


Since the comments already capture this pretty well this will summarize them and add only a bit.

In a place with a lot of collaboration and team work it may be impossible to determine individual contributions to an important work, so you get a lot of authors, who did contribute ideas and other things.

In some lab sciences it takes a huge number of people to keep the lab going. Think CERN, for example. Many of these places credit contributors to the lab with authorship of work produced there. There is at least one scientific paper in which the list of authors is longer than the paper itself. I don't have a reference to it, but it was published within the last couple of years, possibly in chemistry or the medical sciences.

If computer programs were published the way scientific papers are, then a significant program would have (at least) hundreds of "authors" who all contribute in different ways and whose participation is essential to the result. Whether their contributions are "equal" is moot. I don't know how many contributors Linux has, for example, but it is over a thousand.

The number of authors of papers from academia is normally smaller since the working groups are normally smaller. But they have increased as well. It used to be unusual for papers in some fields to have more than one or two authors, but is now more common. That is partly true to the availability of internet communication, of course. I've been involved in several computing projects with several authors, all from different countries.

I will second, also, the comment that industrial research is in a sad state today, especially in the US. In the past, companies did a huge amount of basic scientific research. That is much less now, with the research that most do is very applied, product-oriented research rather than basic science. There are a few exceptions, but economic forces have pushed companies into a more parochial view of research. Even governments are less generous with basic research grants than was true in the past. Everyone seems to be looking for a competitive edge, rather than knowledge itself.

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