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I am a final year PhD student in chemical engineering. Since the start of my PhD, I was clear on one personal philosophy. I will put my name only on those papers where I have made substantial contribution. And I will put my colleague's name on a paper only if he/she has contributed substantially. That's what collaboration means to me and anything else seems fraudulent.

However, my group members frequently put each other's name as co-authors in their papers even if they work on completely different topics and have no contribution in the paper. Now, this is unethical in my perspective, on the other hand, they have 10-15 papers by the time they graduate which increases their chance to secure a postdoc position or a tenure track position.

My advisor says, granting of co-authorship is entirely up to the first author and she doesn't interfere with the process.

I have experienced similar sharing of authorship during my masters degree as well. Past PhD members or postdocs were given co-authorship in spite of not contributing anything.

I will be getting 4 (first author) + 2 (co-author) papers from my PhD, which is far less than my colleagues' output.

My colleagues often say that I should have been more collaborative (i.e. share authorship without contribution) as that would have increased my publication count and helped everyone. I simply can't see myself doing that.

Have I severely affected my chance of a future in academia by not taking part in the authorship sharing practice?

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    If you apply to places where they share your philosophy, you would have the advantage as they would also avoid hiring people with obviously conflicting principles (a big publication record of low author positions in disparate subjects being a pretty dead giveaway to anyone looking). The question would seem to be: are there places in your field where many people share your principles? The honest broker only gets ahead in a market where people value that type of honesty, can reliably detect it, and have an active choice. You don't need everyone to agree with you - just enough. Is there enough? – BrianH Jul 29 at 21:37
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    Voting to close as opinion-based. The final paragraph literally says "what's your opinion". The question is nothing but virtue signaling bait for everyone to pat each other on the back and brag about how they would totally do the right thing even at the expense of their careers. – Trusly Jul 29 at 23:04
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    @Trusly For a novice researcher as myself, who's hoping for a future in academia, is it not possible to have a genuine concern about the long-term effects of not participating in a practice that seem prevalent in my field? And what other place can an inexperienced researcher ask about the perspective of well established academicians/hiring committee members than acadSE? I don't agree that my question is virtue signalling bait, as helping others by sharing one's own experience in the academic world is the core objective of this forum. And that's what I am asking here. – gogeta Jul 29 at 23:14
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    @Trusly I disagree, the question is not primarily opinion-based, this is a specific question about ethics, an experienced academic can give a reasonably objective answer. And there have been many ethics questions on AcademiaSE where answers warn the OP against being too idealistic in the face of an ethical dilemma. – Erwan Jul 30 at 0:13
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    @Trusly the sentence can easily be edited out, the question doesn't rely on it at all. – Erwan Jul 30 at 0:19
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I can tell you from the perspective of a person who was on hiring committees that these kinds of ethical indiscretions are easy to spot and are not well received. To the point, we rejected several applicants because we suspected they weren’t sufficiently independent after graduation as they weren’t lead authors on enough publications.

First of all, word gets around. If a PI lets their group slap their names on random papers, hiring committees will take notice, and will not take these applicants seriously. Second of all, we ask questions! If you obviously know nothing about papers you coauthored (yes, it’s obvious), that reflects very badly on you. Finally, if I were you I’d emphasize that on the few publications you have you are the lead author.

That said, your colleagues can partly get away with this: publishing is a numbers game and I don’t know how hiring committees think in other places or fields.

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    +1 — Even in fields where authors are religiously ordered alphabeticaly, this type of ethical indiscretion is easy to spot. (I've been on dozens of hiring committees, and I've even run a few.) – JeffE Jul 29 at 23:52
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    Spark I agree with you. But if OP is from Europe I think they favor candidate as OP describe, because of H index. Very important for funding agencies – SSimon Jul 30 at 3:56
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    Unfortunately, it is wrong that "that these kinds of ethical indiscretions are easy to spot and are not well received". In a country like Spain, where curriculums are generally evaluated according to rigid scoring schemes that assign point values based on the quartile or tercile in the ISI rankings of the journal in which the article is published, this sort of unethical authorship sharing is directly beneficial in many contexts. – Dan Fox Jul 31 at 9:15
  • Given your last paragraph, perhaps you could clarify what your field and country are, just for added context? – Yemon Choi Aug 9 at 15:48
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Fraudulant "collaboration" is caused by perverse incentives

One of the main things that contributes to this problem, in my opinion, is having ridiculous anachronistic academic and citation metrics that do not adjust for authorship (e.g., the raw h-index). Ironically, there is a large and well-developed academic literature on metrics that adjust for authorship contribution, but this has not made its way into the practice of universities. Most universities still look at crude citation metrics that do not adjust for the number of authors on a paper, and this creates an incentive for the kind of fraudulent cross-authorship of papers.

Authorship adjustment is quite a complicated field, owing to the fact that the contributions of authors on a paper may be unequal, and the authorship order can give information on this (depending on the field). Nevertheless, the basic principle of every proper metric is that the "total value" of a set of papers to a set of authors should not be able to be increased (or decreased) by spreading the authorship in a different pattern. Even the most crude authorship adjustments remove the perverse incentive problem that leads researchers to game the system by cross-authoring papers where they haven't done the work. If you adjust authorship metrics for authorship then this problem disappears --- being the full author of one paper with 100 citations is as good as having fifteen papers each with 100 citations and fifteen co-authors (inclusive of yourself).

I can understand why you are concerned about this problem. It punishes researchers that do papers as sole authors (or in small groups) compared to similarly situated researchers who do research in large groups. Over time, it would be my hope that university practice will catch up to the development of the literature on this problem, and authorship-adjusted citation metrics will start to be used in practical decision-making (e.g., hiring, promotions, etc.) instead of the anachronistic indexes. If that occurs then you will eventually see this practice dissipate, since there will no longer be a perverse incentive to do it.

3

Partly it's an academic self importance problem, and perhaps something that is reflected in the perception of American individualism (see edit below).

In some ways the PhD 'clarity of contribution' is about ensuring that students 'know themselves', and it also a mechanism to simplify assessment by others (possibly the real reason).

In some areas the need for collaboration is massive, such as in engineering, or some big astronomy (see the black hole imaging papers. The key is being able to identify your personal contribution (and hence also being distinct about the contributor elements), rather than claiming fame by 'involvement' in a mega project (as in being the tea boy/girl).

It's even worse in engineering as you rarely get published anyway, but at least ChemEng is (can be) well paid ;-).

If you are clear about who contributed what, then being a little more collaborative is likely to be beneficial as it also enhances your network of those in academia and engineering. Give credit where credit is due, and it will come back to you.


Edit: from comments: from a UK/European perspective, a lot of the SO/academia rhetoric, which appears mainly US based, does have an expectation of idealistic individual work without any linkage to others. The questioner stated their personal philosophy that they want to provide a substantial contribution to a paper with their name (e.g. needing say >30% contribution). This is not the same as having made a small but substantive contribution to some element of the work (e.g. 15% of 15%), hence the philosophy could be detrimental. The key is to "clear about who contributed what" to the team.

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    The "perception of American individualism"? – FDMS Jul 31 at 19:54
  • I was waiting for an elaboration on the "individualism" point, too. I'm guessing it's supposed to be a dysfunctional reason to not collaborate, but I'm not sure how that connects to the question. – Grault Aug 1 at 20:10
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    @Grault, from a UK/European perspective, a lot of the SO/academia rhetoric, which appears mainly US based, does have an expectation of idealistic individual work without any linkage to others. The questioner stated their personal philosophy that they want to provide a substantial contribution to a paper with their name (e.g. needing say >30% contribution). This is not the same as having made a small but substantive contribution to some element of the work (e.g. 15% of 15%), hence the philosophy could be detrimental. The key is to "clear about who contributed what" to the team. – Philip Oakley Aug 7 at 20:59
  • Thanks, that was my guess, but I felt it should be called out. You may want to edit that explanation into the answer. – Grault Aug 8 at 17:50
  • @Grault edit done. – Philip Oakley Aug 9 at 11:55

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