Determining the order of authors on a paper can be a fraught task, never mind deciding whose contribution rises to the level of an author, Nature News writes. Recent discussions on social media, especially Twitter, it adds, have been grappling with these issues.
Who gets what spot on an author list varies by discipline. For instance, in psychology, Nature News says that the author who did the most work usually takes the first slot.
There have been, it adds, attempts to develop points-based systems to assign authorship order. One method from Harvard psychologist Stephen Kosslyn gives researchers a varying number of points based on whether they came up with the idea, designed the study, conducted the study, analyzed the data, or wrote the paper. Whoever has the most points is listed first, and the rest in order of descending points.
That, though, doesn't necessarily address the issue of determining who should be an author. On Twitter, Conny Rhode suggests that an author has had to make an "indispensable contribution to the original idea at the heart of the paper." Though another researcher, Nick Byrd, who asked about gauging who is a contributor to versus a commenter on a paper, tells Nature News that it can be tricky to sort out what part of a paper make it publishable.