Roll the credits

January 3, 2003

Martin Ince likened the author list of some scientific papers to the credits of a Hollywood film (Opinion, THES , December 6). Like them, they should specify contributions. This would give credit to whom credit is due and assign responsibility.

The practice can prove useful. The American Physical Society revised its guidelines in response to the falsified data scandal at Bell Labs, New Jersey. All authors of a scientific paper no longer carry full responsibility. But the revision is long and vague. If co-authors were credited with their contributions, then it would be easy to allocate responsibility.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors excludes "acquisition of funding, the collection of data or general supervision of the research group" as reasons to be credited. But these are legitimate roles in the creation of scientific knowledge. If people wish to be co-authors and if they are credited with what they did, what harm can come?

Richard Jennings
University of Cambridge

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