To what extent does coming up with a research idea, without contributing anything else to the actual work, constitute a sufficient contribution to be an author?
As a hypothetical, suppose a five year-old child tells me one day that he wonders if banana peels can be used to cure leukemia. I am intrigued by the idea and go and write a research proposal. The proposal gets funded (!) and I get positive results (!!). In this case, does the child deserve authorship for coming up with the idea, which I might never have considered?
On the one hand, I can say that some ideas are often very creative and novel to the point where just coming up with the idea is a significant intellectual endeavor (recognizing an unsolved problem, knowing enough theory to hypothesize what might work, knowing what has been tried in the past, using raw intelligence to put things together, etc.), while on the other hand, I could trivially write a script to brute-force-dictionary an arbitrarily long list of "ideas" and then scoop authorship on large numbers of future papers - "Umm, your paper's title was one of 43343895234 that I generated earlier this year with a script, I am entitled to have my name on your paper as an author even though I am not actually doing anything to help, since I had the idea first."
- Coming up with an idea always deserves authorship as long as the idea was novel.
- Coming up with an idea deserves authorship only when the idea-maker establishes a sufficient foundation for the idea. For example, randomly proposing a cure for cancer by picking random chemical names out of a dictionary and hoping for a jackpot cannot result in authorship, while providing a theoretical basis for why a specific chemical might work does, even if the idea-generator leaves it at that and does none of the actual experimental design, lab work, etc., or quite possibly is not even qualified to do so.
- An idea is never sufficient for authorship. Proposing an idea, without doing any of the actual work, merits at most an acknowledgement or a citation ("Thanks to John McWhatever for coming up with the idea of solving the Closeability Problem by applying hyperparallelized matrices across the transverse manifold.", or "On an online Question and Answer site, Columbia (2019) proposed the use of banana peels in curing leukemia, but did not provide a theoretical basis or a practical methodology. In this paper, I demonstrate a clinically significant benefit of 10g banana peel topical tincture daily versus placebo in the treatment of leukemia....").