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?
One obvious problem with this is that while "coming up with an idea" might involve deep theoretical knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence, it could also be the academic equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. For example, I could pick a random chemical name out of a reference manual and declare that my idea is that this chemical cures cancer. I've essentially made a bet on this chemical. If some later researcher who is actually competent in biomedical research manages to get a positive result on this chemical, I've won. My "jackpot" payment is authorship on their article. I'm now a famous, published biomedical researcher even though my actual field might be art history or French literature.
- 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....").