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If a group of students (say, 3 students), produces a work which has been accepted to a reputable conference. All of them contributed equally to the project,from implementation to writing and proof reading of the paper. How should one decide who should be the first author. Even if the names are listed in alphabetical order, so by not being the first author, does it affect the prospects for the other two in any means ? My field of research is computer science.

(This question has been partly inspired by the flurry of questions on ASE, regarding the importance of being the first author)

  • 15
    You'd have to marry somebody with the last name Aaronson or Abrams as quickly as possible. – StasK Sep 5 '13 at 13:24
  • @StasK then we desperately need a more open way to analyse such situation :-) – krammer Sep 5 '13 at 14:52
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    The question is highly dependent on the field of science (see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/535/…). – Piotr Migdal Sep 5 '13 at 17:00
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It depends on the subfield of computer science. For example, if the paper is in theoretical computer science, then author order is alphabetical, and the equal work put in by the authors is not negated by the author ordering. If in a discipline where author order is meaningful, then it's standard practice to (say) order the authors alphabetically and add a footnote saying that all authors contributed equally to the work.

  • 5
    +1: if the ordering is important, the common way to deal with it is a couple (or triple in this case) of asterix and a footnote. – posdef Sep 5 '13 at 11:43
  • With alphabetically ordered, it seems that it still matter a bit - see my answer. – Piotr Migdal Sep 5 '13 at 17:06
  • @PiotrMigdal They could always use reverse alphabetical order to counter this effect, though the footnote explaining the reasoning behind this ordering would start to get a bit unwieldy :) – ThomasH Sep 10 '13 at 11:13
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    @ThomasH Better: ensure random order. – Piotr Migdal Sep 10 '13 at 19:03
15

It may be advantageous to be the first author even in disciplines where author names are ordered alphabetically. In a study by Einav and Yariv (emphasis added):

proxies for success in the U.S. economics labor market (tenure at highly ranked schools, fellowship in the Econometric Society, and to a lesser extent, Nobel Prize and Clark Medal winnings) are correlated with surname initials, favoring economists with surname initials earlier in the alphabet. These patterns persist even when controlling for country of origin, ethnicity, and religion. We suspect that these effects are related to the existing norm in economics prescribing alphabetical ordering of authors’ credits. Indeed, there is no significant correlation between surname initials and tenure at departments of psychology, where authors are credited roughly according to their intellectual contribution. The economics market participants seem to react to this phenomenon. Analyzing publications in the top economics journals since 1980, we note two consistent patterns: authors with higher surname initials are significantly less likely to participate in projects with more than three authors and significantly more likely to write papers in which the order of credits is non-alphabetical.

10

Yes, since the order of authors is often used to convey meaning, it can. As an example, in Neuroscience (my background), the conventional order of authorship is:

  1. The first author is the one who did most of the work, and who is responsible for writing the paper;
  2. Second authors are listed in order of contribution to the work. Usually the people who contributed work come first, and the ones who contributed with ideas come last.
  3. Last comes the mentor. This could be the head of the lab, the supervisor, or a senior researcher who might have assigned the first author to this study. This person is usually a reference in this field, and the one who would provide general guidance to the project or line of research.

However, often it is difficult or impossible to order authorship with fairness. Some journals (not all) accept footnotes telling the reader all authors (or which) contributed equally to the work. But the footnote will not be visible in bibliographies, and the second authors will be forced to indicate their equal contribution in their resumes and applications. So coming second, even in these circumstances, is a handicap.

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    That's more organised than I often see for 2nd authors - the order apart from 1st and last doesn't really matter. – Chris H Sep 5 '13 at 13:38
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    @ChrisH, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe... I'm sure it depends on the field, but in my experience I saw a lot of deeply serious discussion on who would get 3rd and 4th authorship (5th was last). Authorship order can lead to intensely heated arguments and even life enmities. – dmvianna Sep 5 '13 at 14:25
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    ...which is one of the reasons theoretical computer scientists stick to alphabetical order. – JeffE Sep 5 '13 at 14:42

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