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I review a grant application. One of the applicants, Author B, has published an article in a high impact journal as joint first author with Author A (Author A is not in the grant application). In the journal, the published order of authors is

Author A°, Author B°, ... (here, the "°" illustrate the joint first authorship)

However in the grant application, Author B refers to the same publication as:

Author B°, Author A°, ...

Author B put themself in the first position while citing their own published article (both in the body of the text and the reference section - the inversion is therefore not a typo).

Is it common practice to reverse the order of authors in a citation in such context? I asked this question to a few colleagues and they say that it is not unfamiliar to read this. Some are surprised though, but some understand - a very light academic misconduct that is acceptable.

The situation is embarrassing as I am quite surprised of the order inversion. I wonder if I need to report it to the grant committee (a national research body). If I report it and the misconduct is finally not seen as I see it, I would have impaired the application on a false reason.

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I can't answer whether it's "common practice" but it's hard to see how this would be misconduct.

Both versions are telling us the same facts, that A and B are joint first author. The effect of the change is not to mislead about authorship, but to emphasise and clarify the part of that information that's most relevant for the review - not very different to bolding or highlighting something in order to draw the reader's attention.

If I were in B's position, I might be concerned that "Author A°, Author B°" could be misunderstood by a reviewer who is unfamiliar with the ° convention, or indeed one reading late at night without their glasses on.

It's hard to see what harm is done here. It might be slightly irregular but if that irregularity makes the relevant information clearer, and does not give a misleading impression on anything of substance, that irregularity seems excusable.

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  • Thank you for highlighting the bright side. On the dark one, it is an alteration of an academic record. A thing you don't do, just like you don't compute your own personal H-index because you feel like Scopus missed some conference's citations. But your answer shows that the 2 views are valid. We could give the benefit of the doubt then. Another thought: the view you proposed might be different according to the country/region it is asked, a kind of academic culture difference (I don't come from the country I review for).
    – Dk SAP
    Sep 3, 2022 at 5:50
  • @DkSAP Yeah, variations across culture (national or otherwise) are full of traps! A few years back I submitted a maths-heavy paper which used the ∴ symbol, which I'd believed was pretty much universal, and was quite surprised to learn that it was unfamiliar to my reviewers in Europe. With such things, IMHO it's often good to follow the robustness principle: be strict with ourselves, and lenient on others. Sep 4, 2022 at 6:47
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    I have seen a version of this done pretty often in economics. So often, in fact, that it feels like the standard or convention. People write a modified citation and some version of (with coauthor A and B).
    – Dawn
    Sep 5, 2022 at 23:56
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I don’t think it rises to the level of a reportable offense, but I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to change the canonical citation.

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