In many fields, first authors on scientific papers represent the person who’s performed the bulk of the research. Sometimes, that determination can be difficult to make, so we’ve seen many papers that list multiple first authors, noting that each contributed equally to the work. But is it possible — or ethical — to claim six authors all deserve top billing on a paper?
In a recent letter in Science and Engineering Ethics, Govindasamy Agoramoorthy — at Sengamala Thayaar Educational Trust Women’s College in India and Tajen University in Taiwan — flags a 2014 paper in The Plant Journal that lists six first authors, noting all “contributed equally to this work.”
As Agoramoorthy notes in “Multiple First Authors as Equal Contributors: Is It Ethical?“:
If this trend continues, it’s a matter of time before all authors may claim first authorship in all papers. To make the ethical crisis worse, some argue that it’s time to recognize the co-first authorship in journals as a reality facing the scientific journal industry since many researchers desperately depend on it to get promotions, grants, awards and other monetary benefits.
But the question is, would it be possible and practical for several authors to equally contribute in a single research paper? If so, what are the scientifically testable measures and variables that journals can use to authenticate this far-fetched claim?
Tell us what you think.
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