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I am a statistician working at a research institute. We work with data from patients with a certain disease. I am getting paid by the institute, but a part of the money comes from a research grant a doctor brought in. The doctor does not work at the registry, but at a hospital and is working closely together with statisticians of the institute (including me) on research questions.

Together we are doing research on a project. I am doing 100% of the statistics, but all the research questions and ideas come from the doctor. She is also the one writing a manuscript for a paper currently.

Now she wants to put me as first author and herself as last author (as supervisor). The idea comes from other researchers who do something similar, but they usually have medical PhD students and not statisticians as first authors. So basically the reason she wants to put me as first author is to put herself as last author.

I feel uncomfortable being first author and would prefer being second author. I am probably the one putting the most hours into the project by preparing all the data, doing the statistics and explaining the results to the doctor. The statistical analysis will be a big part of the paper. But the research question is not my idea, I have no medical background, the doctor is writing the paper. I am basically getting paid to do the analysis. While I think it is interesting research, I do not identify with it and I do not agree fully with all the conclusions. So far I worked under the assumption to become co-author and the idea of making me first author came up recently. My opinion is that I should only be first author of my own research, which would be in statistics, not medicine.

I guess it is very odd to reject being a first author =).

My next step will be to talk to her about it, but I was hoping for some perspective or opinions from the community. Is it harsh/unusual to insist on being co-author only?

Who would you suggest should be first author in this case?

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    Note that in medicine, the leading author is typically the last author. By insisting to change the order, you are trying to force the doctor to put you, in his/her fields standards, as the main author of the paper. – Nick S Jan 10 '17 at 13:20
  • Agree with Nick. The senior author/grant procurer usually puts their name last - at least in my experience. However, in cases where the only contribution to the project was statistical analyses, I've also seen the statistician receive acknowledgement and not authorship. If you're uncomfortable with being listed as first author, you could always ask for the second option. – Inde Jan 10 '17 at 13:59
  • Would a Contributions paragraph solve your uneasiness? - it would take care that there is no misrepresentation of what you did/didn't contribute to the paper. Obviously, in a 2 author paper there is no middle author position... – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 10 '17 at 16:12
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    Can you clarify: you say "First author," "Second author" and "Last author." Are there only two of you? Or more? – AJK Jan 10 '17 at 18:37
  • There are more authors, but with little contribution – a statistician Jan 11 '17 at 10:04
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In medicine, as in most biological fields that I know of, the first author is the person who did most of the hands-on work, while the last author is the one who had the idea and planned the project. From what you've said, then, it would be appropriate for you to be first author and the doctor to be last.

That said, if you don't feel comfortable being first author (and especially in light of your comment that I do not agree fully with all the conclusions) it's also appropriate for you to request to not be first author -- some middle position (second author, or whatever) is also perfectly suitable for your contributions, from the sound of it.

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    Great answer. I would also suggest that the MD be listed as corresponding author. Most questions about the paper would likely be medical rather than statistical. That way the statistician would avoid medical questions that might arise from the publication. – Richard Erickson Jan 27 '17 at 13:27
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Answering this from the perspective of a biomedical researcher who is often in the position of "We had this question, and this data...can you make something of it?"

First, the conventional view of authorship positions":

  • First author: The person who did most of the work
  • Last author: The senior author on the paper. Usually a conceptually guiding force, and the type of person who could be summed up as "Without X, none of this would have been possible..." even if they wrote no code, swabbed no samples, etc.
  • Others: Everyone else.

From what you're describing, it sounds like there are only two of you. As such, it seems like the logical ordering is you as first author and the doctor as second author. Both of these are relatively prestigious positions in terms of authorship, so putting her last isn't a negative drain on her career. It indicates exactly what's happening - she's running a lab and directing research.

So basically the reason she wants to put me as first author is to put herself as last author.

Her reasoning is correct.

I feel uncomfortable being first author and would prefer being second author. I am probably the one putting the most hours into the project by preparing all the data, doing the statistics and explaining the results to the doctor. The statistical analysis will be a big part of the paper. But the research question is not my idea, I have no medical background, the doctor is writing the paper. I am basically getting paid to do the analysis.

If there are only two authors, her reasoning is entirely correct, and first author is the logical place for you to be.

While I think it is interesting research, I do not identify with it and I do not agree fully with all the conclusions.

This is marginally more concerning to me than whether you are first or last.

So far I worked under the assumption to become co-author and the idea of making me first author came up recently. My opinion is that I should only be first author of my own research, which would be in statistics, not medicine.

I would be extremely confused if you were last author on this paper, and would make assumptions about what that meant regarding the project that were much more inaccurate than the ones I'd make if you were first author.

Is it harsh/unusual to insist on being co-author only?

This would only make sense if there are more people on the team, and even then...

Who would you suggest should be first author in this case?

You.

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As a reader of scientific literature, I will think that either is your work or that she is your advisor/mentor. Now, I agree that If you don't feel comfortable don't do it. However, It would be a waste. Probably this doctor has more publications so he doesn't care about 1st author publications.... but for the sound of it, you are new in this world of publishing.

Also, it is your research "line or agenda". If you don't want to be strongly associated with the output maybe is also a good idea to put you in a second. But, if it is our you considered it "your research" and you plan doing things on this subject in the future maybe is good that you put yourself in the first place.

Good luck with the article!

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