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Let's say a famous researcher contributed only a bit to a research project by a student, and the student could reasonably choose either to include or not include them as a coauthor.

Is it beneficial to the student to include them? It seems that having a big name would increase viewership and perceived legitimacy of the paper, while having more coauthors also seems to diffuse the ownership of the work.

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    Probably area dependent. As as a reviewer, I do not take care the about authors or affiliation. However, there are reviewers who get star struck. Having said that, famous authors usually provide some value in terms of research taste; this could be selecting a good problem, and/or ensuring a paper is up to standard; i.e., he/she is a quality checker. Also, I believe it makes a difference if your paper is borderline; 1 accept and 1 reject. The editor may then recommend a major revision instead of a reject; this is especially true if the editor knows the famous author. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 11 at 19:54
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    A friend of mine did this in a journal that lists the authors by alphabetical order. They became "et. al." despite being the first author in terms of contribution. It's a funny story with a lesson behind. – user347489 Feb 12 at 8:48
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I was wondering more about the benefits to the student (whether they should choose to include a big name author) -- although it seems like that's not up to the student. Thank you for sharing though, that's very interesting – 900edges Feb 12 at 14:16
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Let's say a famous researcher contributed only a bit to a research project by a student, and the student could reasonably choose either to include or not include them as a coauthor.

The student doesn't get to choose, the student gets to invite: It's the famous researcher's decision as to whether they want to be a co-author, since they contributed a bit to [the] research project.

It seems that having a big name would increase viewership and perceived legitimacy of the paper, while having more coauthors also seems to diffuse the ownership of the work.

The benefits are significant, whilst the drawback of more authors is minimal (albeit, fields vary).

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    "The student doesn't get to choose, the student gets to invite" Indeed. I lost the only chance in my short academic career of improving my Erdős number to 2 when a famous researcher declined! Afterwards I have jokingly wondered if mentioning that would have changed his mind... – JiK Feb 12 at 10:10
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    The question more than suggests that while this answer in principle should be the correct one, it is not in the current situation. I imagine that the student has asked the famous person if they want to be a co-author, and the famous person has told the student that they can choose. Not unreasonable. – nabla Feb 12 at 10:44
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    The drawback is that people can, and will, assume that the famous researcher did most of the work. I have seen that happen in my field, where people automatically assume that the famous coauthor did "the heavy lifting". This can be, to some extent, detrimental to the success of a young researcher. – Ink blot Feb 12 at 11:39
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    @Inkblot Few students write papers that famous people would claim as theirs. – user2768 Feb 12 at 11:43
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    @Inkblot it depends. I personally think that the less famous of all did the job, others wrote it, and the big name secured the money as well provided, hopefully, a nice environment. – Alchimista Feb 12 at 18:05
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Yes, it is beneficial.

See the paper "Early coauthorship with top scientists predicts success in academic careers" in Nature Communications from Nov. 2019 (or the short news version at Nature Index).

In an analysis covering more than 22.000 scientists, it finds that collaborating with a top scientist early in one's career leads to an almost doubled increase in the probability of becoming a top scientist oneself.

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    But what is the cause and what the effect? I doubt that the simple fact of the name on the paper is what matters. – Ethan Bolker Feb 11 at 18:58
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    But does it only "predict" or does it cause? I could imagine factors that a partly implied by co-authorship that are more likely to be causal, such as access to important networks (of potential co-authors), having a big shot supervisor (as co-author), graduating from a top school etc. – henning Feb 11 at 19:01
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    I'd imagine the causation goes both ways -- very interesting, thanks for sharing! – 900edges Feb 12 at 1:23
  • Just to make sure this answer does not get misinterpreted: it is beneficial to have a famous author in one's paper, but it is not beneficial to just add their name without asking first. Doing that constitutes a serious academic misconduct. – BlueElephant Feb 12 at 23:12
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My experience with this, as a former grad student is as follows: [student author][supervising professor][famous author whom professor knows][various techs who processed the data]

They're likely credited in dozens of papers, but if its direct, co-author w/o primary positioning.

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    The order you mention is very area-dependent. For example, in mathematics and theoretical computer science, all authors are listed alphabetically. – Carl-Fredrik Nyberg Brodda Feb 12 at 8:54
  • I agree with Carl-Frederik, in my field(s) the supervising prof goes last – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 12 at 17:40

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