In addition, scientists who routinely fail to cite the work of others may find themselves excluded from the fellowship of their peers. This consideration is particularly important in one of the more intangible aspects of a scientific career-that of building a reputation. Published papers document a person's approach to science, which is why it is important that they be clear, verifiable, and honest. In addition, a researcher who is open, helpful, and full of ideas becomes known to colleagues and will benefit much more than someone who is secretive or uncooperative.
Some people succeed in science despite their reputations. Many more succeed at least in part because of their reputations.
The allocation of credit can also become an issue in the listing of authors' names. Science has become a much more collaborative enterprise than it was in the past. The average number of authors for articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, has risen from slightly more than one in 1925 to more than six today. In some areas, such as high-energy physics or genome sequencing, the number of authors can rise into the hundreds. This increased collaboration has produced many new opportunities for researchers to work with colleagues at different stages in their careers, in different disciplines, or even in widely separated locations. It has also increased the possibility for differences to arise over questions of authorship.
In many fields, the earlier a name appears in the list of authors, the greater the implied contribution, but conventions differ greatly among disciplines and among research groups. Sometimes the scientist with the greatest name recognition is listed first , whereas in other fields the research leader's name is always last. In some disciplines supervisors' names rarely appear on papers, while in others the professor's name appears on almost every paper that comes out of the lab. Some research groups and journals avoid these decisions by simply listing authors alphabetically.
Frank and open discussion of the division of credit within research groups—as early in the research process as possible and preferably at the very beginning, especially for research leading to a published paper—can prevent later difficulties. The best practice is for authorship criteria to be explicit among all collaborators. In addition, collaborators should be familiar with the conventions in a particular field to understand their rights and obligations. Group meetings provide an occasion to discuss ethical and policy issues in research.
The allocation of credit can be particularly sensitive when it involves researchers at different stages of their careers-for example, postdocs and graduate students, or senior faculty and student researchers. In such situations, differences in roles and status compound the difficulties of according credit.
Several considerations must be weighed in determining the proper division of credit between a student or research assistant and a senior scientist, and a range of practices are acceptable. If a senior researcher has defined and put a project into motion and a junior researcher is invited to join in, major credit may go to the senior
researcher, even if at the moment of discovery the senior researcher is not present. By the same token, when a student or research assistant is making an intellectual contribution to a research project, that contribution deserves to be recognized. Senior scientists are well aware of the importance of credit in science and are expected to give junior researchers credit where warranted. In such cases, junior researchers may be listed as coauthors or even senior authors, depending on the work, traditions within the field, and arrangements within the team.
WHO SHOULD GET CREDIT FOR THE DISCOVERY OF PULSARS?
A much-discussed example of the difficulties associated with allocating credit between junior and senior researchers was the 1967 discovery by Jocelyn Bell, then a 24-year-old graduate student, of pulsars. Over the previous two years, Bell and several other students, under the supervision of Bell's thesis advisor, Anthony Hewish, had built a 4.5-acre radiotelescope to investigate scintillating radio sources in the sky. After the telescope began functioning, Bell was in charge of operating it and analyzing its data under Hewish's direction. One day Bell noticed ''a bit of scruff" on the data chart. She remembered seeing the same signal earlier and, by measuring the period of its recurrence, determined that it had to be coming from an extraterrestrial source. Together Bell and Hewish analyzed the signal and found several similar examples elsewhere in the sky. After discarding the idea that the signals were coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence, Hewish, Bell, and three other people involved in the project published a paper announcing the discovery, which was given the name "pulsar" by a British science reporter.
Many argued that Bell should have shared the Nobel Prize awarded to Hewish for the discovery, saying that her recognition of the signal was the crucial act of discovery. Others, including Bell herself, said that she received adequate recognition in other ways and should not have been so lavishly rewarded for doing what a graduate student is expected to do in a project conceived and set up by others.
Occasionally a name is included in a list of authors even though that person had little or nothing to do with the content of a paper. Such "honorary authors" dilute the credit due the people who actually did the work, inflate the credentials of those so "honored," and make the proper attribution of credit more difficult. Several scientific journals now state that a person should be listed as the author of a paper only if that person made a direct and substantial contribution to the paper. Some journals require all named authors to sign the letter that accompanies submission of the original article and all subsequent revisions to ensure that no author is named without consent and that all authors agree with the final version.
As with citations, author listings establish accountability as well as credit. When a paper is found to contain errors, whether caused by mistakes or deceit, authors might wish to disavow responsibility, saying that they were not involved in the part of t he paper containing the errors or that they had very little to do with the paper in general. However, an author who is willing to take credit for a paper must also bear
responsibility for its contents. Thus, unless a footnote or the text of the paper explicitly assigns responsibility for different parts of the paper to different authors, the authors whose names appear on a paper must share responsibility for all of it.
ERROR AND NEGLIGENCE IN SCIENCE
Of all the traits which qualify a scientist for citizenship in the republic of science, I would put a sense of responsibility as a scientist at the very top. A scientist can be brilliant, imaginative, clever with his hands, profound, broad, narrow—but he is not much as a scientist unless he is responsible.
—ALVIN WEINBERG, "The Obligations of Citizenship in the Republic of Science," Minerva, 16:1-3, 1978
Scientific results are inherently provisional. Scientists can never prove conclusively that they have described some aspect of the natural or physical world with complete accuracy. In that sense all scientific results must be treated as susceptible to error.
Errors arising from human fallibility also occur in science. Scientists do not have limitless working time or access to unlimited resources. Even the most responsible scientist can make an honest mistake. When such errors are discovered, they should be acknowledged, preferably in the same journal in which the mistaken information was published. Scientists who make such acknowledgments promptly and openly are rarely condemned by colleagues.
Mistakes made through negligent work are treated more harshly. Haste, carelessness, inattention—any of a number of faults can lead to work that does not meet the standards demanded in science. If scientists cut corners for whatever reason, they are placing their reputation, the work of their colleagues, and the public's confidence in science at risk.
Some researchers may feel that the pressures on them are an inducement to haste at the expense of care. For example, they may believe that they have to do substandard work to compile a long list of publications and that this practice is
Paula, a young assistant professor, and two graduate students have been working on a series of related experiments for the past several years. During that time, the experiments have been written up in various posters, abstracts, and meeting presentations. Now it is time to write up the experiments for publication, but the students and Paula must first make an important decision. They could write a single paper with one first author that would describe the experiments in a comprehensive manner, or they could write a series of shorter, less complete papers so that each student could be a first author.
Paula favors the first option, arguing that a single publication in a more visible journal would better suit all of their purposes. Paula's students, on the other hand, strongly suggest that a series of papers be prepared. They argue that one paper encompassing all the results would be too long and complex and might damage their career opportunities because they would not be able to point to a paper on which they were first authors.