I never saw a paper published in a journal of (pure) math with more than six authors. Is it a rule?
(see this one)

  • 17
    Who could possibly set or enforce such a rule? Feb 24, 2021 at 14:31
  • 22
    No. But there is a min number of authors...
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 24, 2021 at 15:56
  • 9
    clearly the number of authors could not exceed the total number of people, so there is an upper bound on the number of authors
    – user833970
    Feb 25, 2021 at 15:48
  • 2
    @DanRomik But is that number 1? Or 0? If I wrote a Markov chain generator or some other kind of AI and trained it on every mathematical paper ever published, and set it to generate a new paper that was plausible enough to be published, am I the author? Or is there no author at all? Feb 25, 2021 at 19:56
  • 2
    @DanRomik: Some papers are imaginary and have imaginary authors. So there's no linear order to say "minimum" here.
    – Ink blot
    Feb 25, 2021 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


No: Authorship is governed by the number of contributing mathematicians, rather than some arbitrary limit.

  • 7
    When a math research group grows, so does the likelihood that many questions will be asked within it and sub groups will take them up individually. Six as an "effective" max seems about right, and hard to achieve. Perhaps some of the papers with long author lists also have some other acknowledged people, pointing to the larger group.
    – Buffy
    Feb 24, 2021 at 13:54
  • 12
    @Buffy The number of contributors is certainly limited by the degree to which contributors can effectively collaborate, but there's no rule. Physicists seem to organise in a manner that facilitates a greater degree of collaboration, publishing thirty three page articles that devote a whopping twenty-four pages to list all 5,154 authors and their affiliations (doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.191803).
    – user2768
    Feb 24, 2021 at 14:09
  • 10
    Yes, lab sciences in general have a larger number of authors due to the nature of experimentation. And high energy physics in particular. Several physics papers have longer author lists than the actual article.
    – Buffy
    Feb 24, 2021 at 14:14
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    1 - is the spirit of this question actually 'what's the highest number of authors on a maths paper?' ? 2 - what's the highest number of authors on a maths paper?
    – BCLC
    Feb 25, 2021 at 11:17
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    @user2768 However, those branches of science use completely different authorship creteria. All authors on the author list of the collaboration automatically become the authors even if they have never seen the manuscript and work on a completely different sub-project. Feb 25, 2021 at 11:34

It turns out that someone put out a bibliometric analysis of publication characteristics in mathematics papers this month, which is very convenient for answering the question!

Richard & Sun (2021). Bibliometric analysis on mathematics, 3 snapshots: 2005, 2010, 2015. arXiv:2102.06831

They found a general increase in the number of authors per paper over time, from 2.1 in 2005 to 2.4 in 2015. (Interestingly, this collaboration was both "internal" and "external" - the number of distinct institutions and distinct countries on a paper also increased steadily). The share of papers with five or more authors was 5.4% in 2015, so presumably slightly higher now. Papers with more authors, or from more places, tended to be more highly cited, which I believe is a common phenomenon across most fields.

They used the Web of Science "research area" classification, which as I understand it will group together a few different Web of Science "categories" (which in turn are inferred from the journal the paper was published in). It will probably thus include more interdisciplinary material than a narrowly defined field of "mathematics" might. They do not break down authorship by category, but it's possible to pull the data and do it yourself.

I ran the numbers for 2020 papers in "mathematics" and in "mathematics, applied", filtered to just "articles". Papers in "mathematics" had an average of 2.24 authors; those in "mathematics, applied" had an average of 2.56. 3.4% of papers in "mathematics" had 5+ authors, versus 5.7% of those in "mathematics, applied".

If we limit it to just those papers published in journals which were only classified as "mathematics" and not as eg "logic / mathematics" or "mathematics / mathematics, applied" (about a third of papers were in journals which were in multiple categories), then we get an average of 2.20 authors, and 3.3% with 5+ authors.

So whole we don't have an explicit classification for "pure mathematics", the non-applied group clearly skews towards a slightly smaller number of authors than applied, and the "just mathematics" group ditto. Papers with five or six authors are not unknown, but they are definitely uncommon - only a few percent of papers. (7 or more authors was around 0.4-0.5%, depending which group you looked at).

  • 2
    This is very interesting, but doesn't quite come on-topic until the last sentence. :-)
    – jpaugh
    Feb 26, 2021 at 21:07

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