No more authors?

Moving beyond the cult of personality when publishing scientific contributions

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A Nature article suggests a cultural shift of scientists’ reward system by, e.g., ditching the ordered listing of authors and encouraging more creativity in adopting contribution frameworks (G. L. Kiser, Nature 561, 435; 2018). Team production is not the sum of separable outputs from each of its members. Why then do we not delete all the individual names when referencing the work of others? We are already applying referencing numbered in the main text in the sequence they are appear. Given that papers can be found using just the title one could even go further by deleting all the authors’ names in the references. Why not even publish scientific contributions anonymously? After all, all what counts is that its content enlarges our knowledge. Probably too idealistic. How much extrinsic incentives do we need to publish? Obviously researcher strive to experience their marginal benefits of success and university administrators have a strong incentive to find metrics to evaluate the professional standing of scholars, departments, and faculties. We are fascinated by the cult of personality. From an evolutionary perspective, survival for thousands of generations of hunter-gatherer existence depended on the ability to identify and learn from the better and more successful tribe members, with an increased survival rate for those who applied powerful cues such as prestige, success, skill, or experience. But how many paintings did Leonardo sign? None. What about Michelangelo’s work? Pietà is the only piece that Michelangelo ever signed. And if we really want to give proper credit to individuals we should actually learn from motion picture opening and more importantly closing credits which acknowledge all staff member that were involved in the production. This will help, for example, those young and talented souls that worked intensively as research assistants and perhaps even help to reveal blind alleys that lead to achieving the polished end product.

Benno Torgler

Professor, School of Economics and Finance and Centre for Behahavioural Economics, Society and Technology (BEST), Queensland University of Technology