Friday, September 21, 2007

Authors - who goes on the paper and why?

Yes I know! It's pretty quiet around here. My Internet connection at home is dead. I'm on the phone with my Internet provider every day to resolve this issue but it is a slow process.....So I guess a bit of blogging from work is required (Sorry boss. I'll run that column in 15 minutes). I'm writing papers at the moment and this always brings up the issue of authors. Who's on and who's off? Over the years I've experienced some pretty disturbing things in this category:
(1) You send the paper off to your boss for proof reading etc. and it comes back with another name on the paper! Why? The boss feels bad about not giving that person credit for something completely unrelated and is trying to make up for it.
(2) People doing routine analysis go on all papers. This category is a bit of a grey area as some techniques may be routine to the person doing it but does require years and years of experience. An interesting issue in this category is X-ray crystallography. Many older scientists (50+ years) don't realise that this has become a routine operation and religiously put the x-ray dude on all papers. Granted in the world of small molecule X-rays the crystallographer should go on sometimes when things aren't trivial. However, 90% of the time this is definitely not the case.
(3) Everyone in the lab goes on all papers! This is really far out but nevertheless the policy in some labs. By everyone I also mean the technician making up the solutions.
(4) And then there are the totally reasonable, serious scientist that will actually ask to have their name removed from the paper as they don't think they have contributed enough. I like this person much more than the evil pseudo-scientist snake that will do anything to sneak their name on a paper.
There's much more where this is coming from. Another post on the topic coming up shortly. D!


Ψ*Ψ said...

Our x-ray guy goes on pretty much every paper that has a crystal structure. Even if it's routine for him, he's very very good at it and can get structures from surprisingly bad crystals sometimes. That, and he's a super awesome person.

Daniel Sejer said...

So it's routine for your x-ray guy but the question is would it be routine to you with a day or two of training? I've worked at institutions that had x-ray facilities where you could get an user account and just run your own experiments just as you do with NMRs. If it's that simple I don't think he should be getting on the papers no matter how awesome he is. Buy him a beer instead or bake him a pay rise cake. Where I work now we don't have an X-ray facility so we send our stuff away and the x-ray guy gets on all the papers instead of getting paid. In my opinion this is wrong because most of it is trivial but we simply can't afford to pay him so we have no choice. D!

milkshake said...

I took my name off a pure biology publication once because I thought I have not done much work on it (I re-synthesized a compound from combichem library because it was only one step and I tried to act like a good neighbour to a nutty biologist guy next door who got no chemists to help him. The biologist liked it + he appparently had much lower standards for adding co-authors.)

X-ray: A publication gains a great value by a nice X-ray structure. It takes quite some time to resolve the data and produce publication-pretty picture. If the structure is in the paper then the guy who produced it should be too.

In Eastern Block lots of NMR guys ended up on papers because NMR there wasn't open-access - and you had to buy the instrument time. Sometimes you could talk the NMR guys into doing you a free favor - and you returned the favor by adding them to the paper.

Our NMR specialist is my close friend. I would not add him on my publication for helping to asign stereochemistry of one compound. But if the NMR data argument was central to the paper or if the NMR specialist was spending more than couple hours on my problem, then of course he would be a co-author.

Daniel Sejer said...

I have to disagree with Milkshake regarding X-ray. I've had >10 structures solved succesfully over the years and only in one case did it require anything extraordinary from the crystallographer. I've had structures solved in less than two hours with the CIF file in my mail box. The crysttalographer I used during my PhD asked to be mentioned in acknowledgments. He was annoyed that people elevated small molecule X-ray to some exotic and complex technique and wished people would use it a lot more. In my experience the hardest part of small molecule crystallography is getting suitable crystals which most crystallographers don’t do anyway. I’ve just had a structure solved last week but it took approx. 20 attempts before I managed to produc suitable crystals. In total it took me about 3 months to get the crystals right. The X-ray guy I use now gets his name on all papers because we can’t afford to pay him. This is a common problem. Can you justify putting someone on a paper just because you can’t afford the service? What if you can’t afford the MS or NMR service? Should these guys get on all papers? D!

Anonymous said...

I agree Daniel, most small molecule structures are trivial, with a good crystal. I was trained on the X-ray and honestly the computer does all the work for you after blindly hitting the enter key.

Just like there are fields of study in NMR there are studies in X-ray and the routine structure determination is certainly not paper worthy.

I think that the crystallographer should be named in the papers acknowledgments.

Henrik said...

We still have a NMR/MS guy here at our department that wont let you touch his equipment - even something standard as LC/MS he will do for you. All he does is actually technicians work (or at least it was so in Cambridge). But if you forget to put him on a paper he gets pissed. This has now let to that people start to seek this service out of the house, since people are really feed up with this. And he dont even resolve the MS for our. Just send you the file, and programe for your own computer.
What do you then do? Well wait until he retires (which is soon). But I can follow Daniels arguments, and still believe that only people with a significant contribution should be on the author list. And then chemistry is not even close to the situation in Molecular Biology, where all that touches a Plasmid is on the author list. Thats crazy, chemist dont put all people on that at some point synthezied a compound equevialent to constructing a plasmid just much more time consumeing.

Asking for being taken of a paper- This really is a tricky question, since it to some extend depends on where you are in your carreer and how much you need a publication that year. But I asked for it once, but the request was denied since all lab members was to be on this review.

Daniel Sejer said...

Henrik, I know the Mass spec guy you are talking about. He tried that shit with me once. Our Mass spec facility was down for a month and we approached this guy and asked him if he could run one FAB for us. Sure thing, no worries matie, just stick my name on that completed manuscript and it's all yours. We decided to delay submitting the manuscript and patiently waited for our own facility to come back on line. That dude actually used to be the most publishing person at that particular institution because he was pulling that stunt on everyone. Regarding pulling your name of a paper because you don't feel you've contributed enough - Yes it's a tough call if you don't have many papers and they are perfectly happy to stick your name on. I've been lucky a few times and ended up on papers where I only did very little. To justify my existence I compiled all the data and wrote those papers. I'm not sure if that makes it more right? One of my mates, unbelivably, just asked to have his name off a Nature paper because he wasn't happy with his contribution....Nature paper....I have a feeling I won't be in that situation any tyim soon. D!

Ψ*Ψ said...

The crystallographer here teaches a class. After a semester, I can solve a structure from good data. I can't pick a decent crystal for diffraction to save my life. I could never do his job and be good at it.

Daniel Sejer said...

Well, I have never had a go at crystallography myself but I know PhD students that did x-ray routinely by themselves (and they were synthetic organic PhDs). There probably is a big equipment factor in all of this. If you have a state of the art piece of equipment it's probably a lot simpler than if you are messing around with an old machine. I was under the impression that most crystals diffract but you need a kick ass machine to solve poorly diffracting crystals. D!

DOF said...

I don't mind having the crystallographer's name on the paper, but not his supervisor too, or worse, BOTH of his supervisors if he's joint-supervised. That's 3 people for 1 crystal structure! Insane! And unfair.

Daniel Sejer said...

I agree DOF. Things start getting painful when there's a whole list of people getting on the paper for doing routine stuff. I've had two people on one of my papers for one routine X-ray structure and it took them months to get it done. When we needed a second structure shortly after we had the x-ray guy at Cambridge Uni. do it instead. He charged a modest fee, his name went in acknowledgements and it took him less than a week to do the job! D!