Why more technicians deserve to be on author lists
Imagine how you’d feel if you worked hard on something, and then didn’t get any credit for it. Or worse, someone else gets the credit. Perhaps the lack of recognition only briefly annoys you. But what if it actually causes you to miss out on career opportunities? And when people look back in 50 years’ time, maybe they’ll think people like you didn’t exist – as though all your work occurred without any human intervention. You’ve been erased from history.
In science, getting credit in a research project is often a matter of making it on to the author list of the related publications. This list is supposed to represent all the people who made significant contributions to a study. Yet the history of science is haunted by the ghosts of unacknowledged individuals who helped to produce key scientific breakthroughs.
Arguably, a list of names at the top of an article doesn’t go far enough to recognise individual contributions. While the exact order of names in this list is often delicately negotiated based on perceived importance, it tells the reader little or nothing about what each person actually did.
Fortunately, more journals now allow (or require) author contribution statements to accompany the list of names. Many publications recommend using the contributor roles taxonomy, or Credit: a list of 14 roles that covers pretty much every kind of useful work you can do on a research project, including conceptualisation, providing resources, analysis and data curation.
The power of the Credit taxonomy goes beyond making it easier for the readers of research articles to correctly assign credit. The list of contributor roles provides support to individuals who have to argue that they deserve authorship. No more can someone’s claim be dismissed because ‘they only wrote the software’; Credit lists that as a valid contribution. Looking at the roles associated with a particular paper can also indicate where people have been unfairly excluded – an author list that doesn’t credit anyone with collecting the data is highly suspicious.
I particularly hope that technicians and research assistants will benefit from an increased openness about who’s contributed what. Many a project would have foundered without the creativity and know-how of a skilled technician, and too often their names are restricted to the acknowledgments section (if they make it into the paper at all).
There’s no good reason why such credit restrictions should be the norm. Even back in the 1950s, research assistant Toshiko Mayeda co-authored papers (after some early entrapment in the acknowledgements, as Matthew Shindell recounts in his profile of Mayeda). If you do the work, you’re entitled to your place in history, regardless of your job title. There’s room in contributor lists for everyone who deserves to be there.
There’s no good reason why such credit restrictions should be the norm. Even back in the 1950s, research assistant Toshiko Mayeda co-authored papers (after some early entrapment in the acknowledgements, as Matthew Shindell recounts on p36). If you do the work, you’re entitled to your place in history, regardless of your job title. There’s room in contributor lists for everyone who deserves to be there.