Feature Christmas 2013: Aggravations

Deciding authorship order

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7182 (Published 16 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7182
  1. P M Brennan, clinical lecturer in neurosurgery1,
  2. A Jubb, clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine2,
  3. J K Baillie, clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine2,
  4. R W Partridge, clinical lecturer in paediatric surgery3
  1. 1University of Edinburgh, Department of Neurosurgery, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK
  2. 2University of Edinburgh, Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4SA, UK
  3. 3Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh EH9 1LF, UK
  1. Correspondence to: J K Baillie j.k.baillie{at}ed.ac.uk
  • Accepted 8 November 2013

The order of authors on this article was determined by an indisputable rule developed in the school playground, the “bagsy”

Authorship of academic papers has become increasingly problematic in recent years. Many ambitious studies require large consortia in which the contributions of individuals are difficult to discern from a simple list of authors,1 leading some groups to do without authors altogether and others to call for wholesale reform of the system.2 3 Funding decisions place increasing reliance on publication records, and research quality measures place particular weight on authors’ positions.4 This can lead to many problems.5 Authors can be jostled out of their deserved position by the spurious elevation of minor contributors to the prestigious last (senior) authorship position.6 Confusing attempts to share credit can also occur through use of the inevitably misleading phrase “these authors contributed equally to this work.”7

Human interaction in many fields encounters the problem of how to allocate a perceived future reward. We report one solution originating …

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