While reading this slightly-too-snarky question, I was reminded of a slightly more serious question I’ve wondered about from time to time: how does being one of the 1000+ authors on a paper like the LIGO discovery or one of the CERN collaborations influence your career? I’m used being in a field (mathematics) where most papers have between one and three authors (I’ve written with three separate four-person teams, and people have often considered this a bit exotic), so when reading a CV, one can reasonably ascribe most of the “credit” for a paper to any of the authors.

If you’re in a situation where you have to judge the research output of a scientist (like a hiring or tenure committee), how does seeing a paper from an enormous collaboration change your thinking? What do you if you have make a decision between candidates whose publication lists are identical (due them being in the same collaboration)?

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    For hiring/promotion, I'm going to guess just like for all other situations: letters of recommendation.
    – Kimball
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 20:58
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    A related issue is that at some institutions, like mine, reference letters for promotion and tenure are supposed to come from people "at arm's length" from the candidate. My dean, being an experimental particle physicist, often points out that in certain fields, one is forced to be flexible, since virtually everyone familiar with your work is a collaborator. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 21:20
  • Often the committees include other members of the team. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 5:35
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    @AnonymousPhysicist So I should ask the follow up question: how do you remember the name of 1000 coauthors, let alone remember what they contributed to the project? Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 18:40
  • @BenWebster I would assume there is a hierarchy which keeps track of these things, just like any other large organization. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 22:03

2 Answers 2


There's generally a way of assessing your contribution to the project even if it's enormous. So even if you're 29th author, if you were the senior manager of say particle detection and analysis, that's knowable. And they'll have a letter of recommendation from the project supervisor detailing your role.

And people on the committee (especially the person's department head) if they think you're great will advocate for you, the importance of your role, and the importance of your contribution to it.


It depends a lot on what you are using papers for. A published paper can inform a committee on the relative author potential for:

  1. Capacity for innovation
  2. Scientific leadership
  3. Skills in data analysis and interpretation
  4. Skills in scientific writing and navigating scholarly communications
  5. Team membership
  6. Peer connections
  7. Capacity for securing and maintaining funding

Any paper with more than 15-20 authors supports with difficulty any of the above items, as there is an evident dilution effect. For instance, when looking at a paper such as Chatrchyan et al, with 2189 authors, what can be inferred regarding the contribution of author 123rd (randomly picked...)? Only, at best, items 5, 6 and 7. Accordingly, only if such gargantuan papers are accompanied by others more reasonably authored ones, can the multi-authored ones be considered credible.

  • It is my understanding that in some fields (e.g. high energy physics), virtually all papers have huge numbers of authors.
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 21:43
  • I understand this habit, put I think this in part is a friendly hijaking of the typical scholarly endeavor of the past, especially when these multiauthored papers drive citations and h indexes. Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 22:07

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