Nature is encouraging authors of papers to say who did what.
This week sees a small step forward for transparency in Nature's columns. On page 473, at the end of the list of acknowledgements in a neuroscience paper, is the following: “R.R. conceived the experiment, and together with A.H. and L.L. carried it out; C.D.B. designed and carried out the data analysis; R.R. and C.D.B. co-wrote the paper.” Nature decided to accept the authors' request to publish this form of words — in the light also of previous concerns about transparency in relation to scientific misconduct, as well as proposals from correspondents (see, for example, page 406). This policy of allowing authors to succinctly describe their contributions now applies to anyone who requests it.
This is part of a movement that, we hope, will spread naturally across the scientific community, it having already become established in some biomedical journals. Experience in the pages of The Lancet has recently been analysed by Veronica Yank and Drummond Rennie. Their report is at http://www.cbe.org/cbe/Yankrev.html . A proposal of standards for such listings and other useful references can be found at http://www.cbe.org/cbe.
This policy is experimental. We believe that, for now at least, authors and editors are capable of jointly deciding what works best in particular circumstances. If, for instance, a long list proves desirable, we may consider it for the web version of Nature only.
We hope that, as the practice spreads, the dishonourable practice of “honorary authorship” — authorship by virtue only of seniority, for example — will diminish. More positively, we hope it will lead to a fuller appreciation of just who made what critical contribution.