I'm involved in a long collaborative software development project. The project required continuous effort because the goal is very ambitious and the project started from scratch.

However, some early collaborators contributed to the projects very little, one was an undergraduate who didn't have the skills to contribute significantly to the project and the other was a post-doc who caused more harm before ultimately leaving the group.

My question is do these early collaborators deserve authorship on any publication that may arise from this project? If no, at what point would someones contribution constitute authorship?

Here are some thoughts:

Pro: They did technically contribute to an early prototype, and I wouldn't want to be left out of a paper that I contributed to, but couldn't ultimately see the end of because of other circumstances.

Con: The project has substantially changed since they contributed to the point and it's debatable it's even the same project anymore, as practically all the software has changed. More importantly to me, it dilutes the effort of the authors who contributed significantly more, and this can be discouraging.

  • 3
    Personally, I would offer authorship to anyone who contributed. (They may choose to decline.) In my field, mathematics, the general assumption is that every author contributes equally to a project but naturally this is not completely true in practice, and possibly someone or the other is ‘coasting’. But over time this sort of thing should even out. – Aru Ray Mar 26 at 6:33
  • Especially in the case of the undergraduate you should consider naming him/her in the acknowledgements instead of listing him/her as an author. This is quite common in my peer-group, as the undergrads commonly only did "part of the dirty work" without contributing significantly to the manuscript. In my opinion, this is an elegant solution which leaves everyone satisfied. – pbaer Mar 26 at 10:15

That's always an awkward situation. The bar to "deserve" authorship is generally considered to be pretty low: If you intellectually contributed to the project, you should be a co-author. At the same time, people generally have the expectations that all co-authors continue to contribute to the paper in some form or other till the end, for example through the writing and proof-reading process.

So if someone helped develop an algorithm or worked on produce the data for the paper, they probably should be a co-author. But it is not unheard of to write an email to them and say

As an author, there is also an expectation that you continue to work with us on writing the paper; I recognize that you have moved on in your career, and if you feel like you don't want to be on the paper because you don't have the time to work on it, that's ok with us as well."

That's an awkward email to write, but sometimes it's necessary to either get a person to contribute more, or remove themselves from the paper.

  • Thanks I would upvote but I don't enough reputation yet – no-trace Jun 25 at 17:17

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