Giving Techs Credit

Tue Sep 9 10:10:28 EST 1997

>Hannah Dvorak-Carbone (hdvorak at wrote:
>: I think it depends on the PI and on the nature of the
>: contribution your sister made to the work.  Our lab
>: recently published a paper in Science in which our 
>: technician was the first author, and another technician
>: was on the author list as well.  Both made substantial
>: contributions to developing methods, performing experiments,
>: and analyzing data.
>At NIH, the official rule is that authors are supposed to
>have contributed substantially to 2/3 of these three
>parts of a project:
>1) Planning & design
>2) Data collection
>3) Analysis & writing
>Of course, the real guidelines are much longer, and they
>are probably not always followed, but I think these
>rules are a good starting point.
>Another guideline I keep in mind is the document one
>signs when submitting a paper, saying that each auther
>takes responsibility for the paper as a whole. 

All of this harks back to the ethics course I took, and if this was all 
posted on the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics 
listserver, you'd get a zillion responses, each one different.  What I 
learned from this NSF sponsored course was: 

1) There is no fixed "rule" for authorship on a scientific paper (just 
check the last few months letters to Science to see how many opinions on 
this there are)

2) Every discipline has different "rules" (those 25 author physics 
papers have different rules than a medical paper, than a straight 
biology paper, than a chemistry paper, etc.)

3) Every lab within a discipline has different critereia, making one 
lab's author the next labs acknowledgement, and the next lab's total 
overlook.  Some people say everyone who contributes data for a figure 
should be an author, some people say only people who actually write the 
paper, other add people who's sole contribution (and its not a small one 
these days) was funding or lab space.  Some people just tack on names 
for effect-a highly questionable practice in my opinion. Bharathi 
mentioned the document that says each author is responsible for the 
paper as a whole-if you collaborate with another lab, and the grad 
student in that lab fudges data, unknown to the other  PI, how will you 
as one of the 3  grad students on the paper from the original lab know 
that and be responsible for it?  These are the hard questions that are 
causing so many people to write to Science.

All three of these things lead to one of the biggest sources of ethical 
complaints in science-the allocation of credit.  Because it's so 
subjective, and the rules are often not explicitly stated beforehand, 
many people are dissapointed, and especially because credit for one's 
work is the currency of science.  People get upset with the PI when 
they're not on papers and think they should be, and PI's get upset with 
people who think they should be on the paper when the PI can't 
understand why they think that.

It would be nice (and saves a lot of heartache) if PIs and others sat 
down at the beginning of a working relationship, or the start of a paper 
and said "this is what constitutites authorship", but the "don't ask, 
don't tell" mentality seems to be rampant in science.  Some PIs seem to 
think if they talk about it, it will create a problem, rather than head 
it off.

All that being said about "preventative ethics", when all that's left is 
a situation which has to be dealt with after the fact, the best thing to 
do is to covertly ask others in the field if you've been slighted-you 
may have unrealistic expectations of what authorship entails.  If after 
talking to several people in your field, at DIFFERENT levels, you're 
convinced there's a problem, go to the PI first-who may be clueless that 
there's a problem.  Decide ahead of time what kind of resolution you 
expect (I don't think a retraction would be reasonable, but perhaps an 
erratum or a promise not to do it again) If that doesn't result in a 
satisfactory resolution, its time to start looking for a new job.

Some of the ideas I mentioned above are expounded at length in a special 
issue of Science and Engineering Ethics coming out soon on 
whistleblowing.  I highly reccommend it.
Julia Frugoli
Dartmouth College

visiting grad student at
Texas A&M University
Department of Biological Sciences
College Station, TX 77843
FAX 409-847-8805

"Evil is best defined as militant ignorance."
																										Dr. M. Scott Peck

More information about the Womenbio mailing list