I work as a programmer supporting a psychology lab.

Most of my work is translating some paper-based or physical assessment into a computer-based equivalent or I create programs for novel assessments along with associated databases and support programs for data retrieval and basic cleaning.

Recently, a colleague included me as a co-author on a paper.

Are they are being overly nice or should I be a co-author on other papers?

  • 6
    I can't speak for the traditions of psychology, but my general read as a scientist is that if you are making intellectual contributions, you can be included as an author, and being a programmer working closely with the study designers, you are likely to be doing so.
    – jakebeal
    Apr 10, 2015 at 19:57
  • 2
    Well, if without your work the study wouldn't be completed, I don't see why you shouldn't be included as a co-author. Apr 10, 2015 at 20:15
  • 3
    @Nobody That's a terrible way to judge whether coauthorship is deserved. The bar for intellectual contribution should be higher than that. I don't think there's anything wrong with a programmer being included in almost any field, but it shouldn't necessarily be by default.
    – Roger Fan
    Apr 10, 2015 at 20:38
  • In addition to opinions, it would be good to have some actual references for this.
    – GEdgar
    Apr 10, 2015 at 20:41
  • 2
    @nobody without my RA who schedules, starts the experiment program, by double clicking the icon, and pays my subjects, very little research would get done in my lab. None of that, however, is worthy of authorship.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 11, 2015 at 2:16

5 Answers 5


In general, only researchers are included as authors. In some cases, the person doing the programming makes a critical intellectual contribution and becomes a researcher. In Psychology, specialist help is often brought in for programming, statistics, modelling, animal care, data acquisition, drug administration, and subject treatment. These support staff are often just turning a "crank". The crank is not necessarily easy to turn and the project would not be completed without it being turned, but turning the crank is not research.

Support staff tend to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. Programmers tend to get the short end of the stick in that they get acknowledge only the first time the software is used while other support staff get mention on every paper they are involved with. Support staff only become authors if they do something novel (for example, develop novel testing software). In these cases, they would be an author on the paper (often a methods paper) describing that novel contribution.



  • Programming a task to a specification is one of many procedural tasks that typically does not lead to authorship in psychology.
  • Authorship is typically justified where the programming task involves a substantive intellectual contribution particularly in terms of both academic insight required and contributing to the design in a way that relates to the overall contribution of the resulting paper.
  • Programmers can try to negotiate authorship. This is often done by either amplifying the programmer's overall intellectual contribution or when the lead author requires the programmer's input for financial or other reasons.

More details Putting aside the issue of what is reasonable, I can share some observations from my experience working in a psychology department for many years.

Professional staff with technical expertise in programming are often used on psychological projects. They might be used to program an experiment, set up a data collection tool (e.g., a survey), set up a website and so on. Typically, programming a task does not give rise to authorship. The logic is that more procedural contributions are insufficient to justify authorship.

As a casual observation, I have noticed that some psychology researchers undervalue the creative contribution that is often required to effectively implement a programming task.

Support staff versus academic programmers: I also note that there is a difference between professional support staff and academics (students and faculty) that provide the same technical support. Support staff are typically not on an academic career track, typically do not have domain specific training in the substantive discipline of the paper, and are not assessed particularly on their publication output. In contrast if a technically minded collaborator programs an experimental task, they are more likely to be motivated by co-authorship, they will also more likely be able to contribute to other intellectual aspects of the paper (e.g., task design decisions; write-up; project conception; etc.).

I also have seen cases where authorship is negotiated. In particular, where the lead author does not have money to pay the programmer or the programmer is particularly motivated by authorship, authorship can be offered as an incentive to be involved. As @strongbad implies in the comments, this can get into mirky ethical territory where the contribution clearly falls short of ethically recognised criteria for authorship. And as @strongbad notes in the comments, a more appropriate way to navigate this is to ensure that the programmer does make the requisite intellectual contribution (e.g., through contribution to design, write-up, etc.).

  • 2
    I like to think that when authorship is "given" instead of money that it is more along the lines of: I cannot pay you for the programming, but if you do it, I will allow you to make an intellectual contribution so you can be an author.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 11, 2015 at 3:33
  • @StrongBad excellent point. I've made a few edits in response. Apr 11, 2015 at 3:59

This is an old question, but I'll add a quick link and discussion of APA authorship standards.

The guidelines: http://www.apa.org/research/responsible/publication/

According to this:

Authorship credit should reflect the individual's contribution to the study. An author is considered anyone involved with initial research design, data collection and analysis, manuscript drafting, and final approval.

On the website, this is directly contrasted with: funding, mentorship, and not participating in the actual publication. The last one is tricky.

So, where does programming fall in? How I interpret the last exception above is: if you aren't using analysis that I ran/interpreted, my statistical tables, any graphics I made, or any of my writing (obviously), then I'm not contributing. From my perspective, though, if you use even one of those things in the manuscript/presentation, I have contributed to the manuscript in a tangible way, and should be included as an author. I feel obligated to mention (as this has happened) that, from my perspective, if you take my code and change the color of the plot and include it, you're still presenting a product of someone else (and need to provide credit for that). Now, if I write code for a data collection procedure, that doesn't necessarily relate to a tangible contribution to the manuscript, and may or may not qualify for authorship (see below about creating a new data collection program for the project).

I believe the need to provide credit is the primary consideration. If you have a published software, you shouldn't be given authorship as credit for its use (as a citation to the software is sufficient). If you have a paper on a unique data collection method, you shouldn't be given authorship as credit for its use (again, citation). Now, if you designed a unique program/statistic/data collection method, you probably should be given authorship, as there isn't another appropriate way to provide credit for that contribution (an acknowledgement isn't enough for that level of contribution, in my opinion).

Overall, though, I believe the best way to approach this is through mutual agreement at the beginning of the project. This involves a clear definition of the scope of work and compensation for that work (even if the compensation is zero), and revisiting these agreements if the scope changes. Note that there is no exception about authorship for being paid or not, so if you are a paid consultant and are contributing you should still be listed as an author. If you agree to do X, Y, and Z for money but no authorship, fair enough. If you agree to do it for no money but authorship, also fair game. In my experience, such agreements help to keep things friendly in terms of mutual expectations moving forward: if the scope of work was completed, the agreed upon terms should be respected (that doesn't mean that's all you can do on the project, just that the terms should be met whether or not you chose to continue). Note that, as circumstances change, these SOWs are often updated, if only informally, to address the new condition (deadline got moved up, so we need that tangible a week earlier than expected).

Regarding your situation, it seems a bit unclear from your post. If you are typing questions into SurveyMonkey, you probably don't deserve authorship. If you have created an innovative data collection method/statistic/program specifically for this application (and haven't/aren't publishing it elsewhere), you probably do. Finally, if you are contributing tables/analyses/graphics/text to the final manuscript/presentation, I believe that you certainly deserve authorship credit for your work (as you will have contributed, tangibly, to the written product).


Authorship of a scientific publication can sometimes be a difficult discussion as the requirements, reasons and justification of the author list are not always consistent, clear and well communicated.

Some researchers, labs and universities therefore employ the so called Vancouver Protocol [1, 2], that poses a number of requirements for authorship:

  1. conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data; and
  2. drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and
  3. final approval of the version to be published.

This protocol is of course merely a suggestions, but (based on my limited experience) it seems to capture the sentiment and approach taken in several labs that I worked in. Note that in some universities, authors are required to complete a signed co-author statement, that describes their contribution to the paper as minor, proportional or major.

So coming back to your question:

Are they are being overly nice or should I be a co-author on other papers?

Based on the information in your question and taken the requirements of the Vancouver protocol, I would say that they are overly nice to add you to the paper.

Of course, there is absolutely no problem in you being a co-author on the paper, if the main authors value your contribution and propose to add you. But, it would be, e.g., hard for you to claim co-authorship on that paper if you did not work on the manuscript.

Note, however, as pointed out by StrongBad in the comment that:

The criteria are not intended for use as a means to disqualify colleagues from authorship who otherwise meet authorship criteria by denying them the opportunity to meet criterion #s 2 or 3. Therefore, all individuals who meet the first criterion should have the opportunity to participate in the review, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript.

  • 2
    See academia.stackexchange.com/questions/42177/… in regards to if not working in the manuscript should be a reason to deny authorship. The rules, which I misread, essentially state that if you make an intellectual contribution you should be allowed to work on the manuscript.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 11, 2015 at 12:12

An author should be involved in many stages of the study; from involvement in design of the study, to involvement in analysis and writing. Someone who is merely programming is not an author, although this is a valuable contribution

  • Well, a programmer who is not just blindly implementing is involved in both design and analysis. They can always be involved in writing if the primary authors permit it (and they should if the person meets the other criteria).
    – jakebeal
    Apr 10, 2015 at 20:37
  • hens "merely programming" Apr 10, 2015 at 20:48
  • 1
    The problem is who defines "mere" - lots of non-programmers denigrate the intellectual labor involved, thinking of it as equivalent to e.g., running a mouse colony or prepping samples for mass spec.
    – jakebeal
    Apr 10, 2015 at 20:51
  • @jakebeal Honestly, as a computational researcher and former software engineer, it often is equivalent to running a mouse colony or prepping samples if there is adequate specification from a project manager.
    – Tim
    Apr 10, 2015 at 22:38

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