Handling co-authorships and author order in MOBI lab

Author: Petr Keil With contributions from: Carmen Soria, Gabriel Ortega, Francois Leroy, Flo Grattarola, Kaca Tschernosterova, Frieda Wolke, Manuele Bazzichetto

On Thu 21 September 2023, during our lab-meeting, we had a discussion about good practice concerning co-authorships in MOBI lab. Here is what we came up with:

Relevant or interesting resources

Who is a co-author and when is co-authorship deserved

A rough criterion is that co-authorship is deserved if at least 1 role from the CRediT list is clearly substantial, or if the person has at least 2 roles. This is, however, still vague. Hence, if in doubt, follow the next rule.

When in doubt if someone deserves to be a co-author on your paper, offer them an opportunity to contribute and deserve co-authorship in the upcoming phases of the writing and peer-review process.

When still in doubt, be inclusive. MOBI lab default policy is the “opt-out” policy.

Whoever contributes substantially to conception of ideas or study design, or execution of the study, or collection of the data, or to analyses, or their interpretation, should be given the chance to contribute to the main text at some point.

If you are listed on our manuscript and you have doubts if your own co-authorship is justified, try to justify it during the upcoming phases of peer-review, e.g. by helping with the revision, commenting on the reviewers comments, etc. This is usually a tedious work where every extra help to the lead author is much appreciated.

If, in MOBI lab, we publish a dataset and that dataset is under an open license, we treat these data as any other open and published data. This means that the authors of the published dataset do not have to be included as authors on future publications that will use the data. However, it is encouraged to reach out to the original authors, and involve them in the follow-up analyses as co-authors, if it benefits the science.

Setting the order of authors on papers

First, last, second, and corresponding authors are the most visible and important contributors.

The first author is the person who led the research and writing.

The last author is the person who bears the most significant responsibility in terms of funding, supervision, scientific content, etc., for the research and the final publication. This applies also after the paper is published, and if there is an error in the original paper, the responsibility for how it is addressed goes to the last author.

The second author is someone who still contributed significantly, but less than the first author. The significance of contribution declines with author order, although this is not a strict rule, and exceptions are possible. Ideally, the order should be justified in an author contribution section of the published paper.

The corresponding author is someone who should be contacted first by people from the outside (e.g. other researchers, editors, media) in all matters related to the paper, both during peer review and after publication.

The default expectation in MOBI lab is that the first author is the corresponding author, unless this is impractical, for example when the lead author is expected to leave academia or the research field/program/project of MOBI lab, and thus would not be able to respond to queries about the paper.

If two or more people have an equally significant contribution, flip a coin or use the sample() function in R to decide their order. Do this in front of the co-authors in question.

Prior to the first submission of the manuscript, the first author has the responsibility to (i) inform other co-authors what everyone did, (ii) justify their order, (iii) encourage them to check their affiliation and to add any relevant funding source to acknowledgements. This is done via a joint email to all co-authors.

Bad practice

Including people as co-authors solely because they are past collaborators, friends, because there are political or hierarchical reasons, or because they might act reciprocally in the future (i.e. “I will put you on my paper because next time you will include me on your paper”) is bad practice. Authors should be included based on merit.

Assigning authorship and author order (or the position of the corresponding author) based on expected monetary or career benefits in the future is unethical. The ethical way is to order authors based on merit.

If, immediately prior to submission, there are co-authors listed on the manuscript who did very little or nothing (a bad practice called “piggybagging”), they should be removed from the list of co-authors, and politely informed about that.

Acknowledgement of funding sources, affiliations

MOBI research is funded from several sources, sometimes with complex guidelines for how they should be acknowledged. Thus, please double check with Petr how to acknowledge funding on your papers.

If you were employed by CZU during a time that you worked on a paper, you should put CZU as your affiliation.

If you were funded from a grant awarded to MOBI lab during a time that you worked on a paper, please check with Petr if you need to acknowledge that funding on your manuscript.