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Editorial Snapshot: Author contributions and biased perceptions

- G.A., Senior Editor

The order of author names listed on the title page of a published manuscript still plays an important role in modern academia. It is generally understood that author names are listed in descending order of contribution to the work. Although this has long been the case, like other traditions, it is important to consider how it functions today.

In an opinion piece published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a group of researchers from Israel reported the results of their analysis of the extent of bias in the perceptions authors have regarding their contribution to their published studies.

By conducting a survey of the authors of a sample of 10 published manuscripts, the researchers were able to collect data on authors’ estimates of their contributions to published articles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results demonstrated that even scientists tend to overestimate their contribution to team projects. Even in the collaborative field of modern academic research, bias can affect how researchers view their work and the work of others. Consequently, the authors of the opinion piece suggest that all scientists should be made aware of the potential to be influenced by personal bias. They also suggest the importance of including discussions of this and other biases in undergraduate and graduate education.

While it may never be possible to eliminate bias from human perception, modifying the way journals credit authors could help to eliminate the problem with listing authors in order of contribution. As an alternative model, the authors of this opinion piece suggest that credit could be assigned based on the tasks authors perform rather than the magnitude of their contribution. However, given the long history that the traditional ordering system has, it may be a difficult change to introduce.

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