Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals

Chapter 2: Determining Authorship: Why Is Something that Seems so Simple Often so Difficult?

Kenneth A. Rose, Mary C. Fabrizio, and Beth A. Phelan


One of the goals of scientific research is publication, and research is not considered complete until the results are published (Day 1998). Publications enter research findings into the scientific knowledge base, and publication is how scientists present their results to the broader scientific community and, ultimately, make their findings public (Weltzin et al. 2006). Without sounding too dramatic, research publications are fundamental to the scientific process and to advancing our knowledge, and each publication is attributed to the authors whose names appear on the publication. Carraway (2009) summed up this idea by stating, “authors are the cornerstone of science.”

Authorship decisions are extremely important because they are part of the ethics that underlie science (Wager 2009). Authorship determines not only credit, but it establishes responsibility for the content of the publication (Frazzetto 2004). Proper authorship is part of the scientific process, which is fundamentally based on trust; therefore, authorship decisions can influence the credibility of the reported results. A scientist working alone on a project and publishing a solo-authored article is no longer the general model. Multidisciplinary research has led to a trend of increasing numbers of authors per article (e.g., Guimerà et al. 2005) and has greatly complicated the determination of appropriate authorship (Weltzin et al. 2006).