An idea that is being contemplated by publishers and editors around many scientific communities right now is the concept of parsing the attribution of a study to a finer granulation that simply paper coauthorship. That is, the thought would be to assign authorship to each section, plot, even paragraph. An article about this topic was recently published in Nature, here:
This would more directly give credit where credit is due, as the article title states. It would allow promotion and hiring committees to more accurately assess the contributions of a scholar, and use this in some way to more accurately calculate the impact of the individual on the field.
The downside is that, well, any multi-author paper would then only be a partial credit towards your CV. It would also require a significantly new methodology of keeping track of authorship.
Our current system breaks it down to two levels, first author or coauthor. You have to specifically point out to people that you were a particular coauthor (say, second or third in a big list, for instance) for others to really take notice of such a fact. Regarding h index calculations and other metrics, there is often no distinction regarding your position in the author list; all authors, first to last, are treated identically in most of these metrics.
So, is it better to parse the authorship down to a finer scale than the whole paper level? Or is this simple more bureaucracy and a bigger headache than it would be worth?
I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Next week, the AGU Publications Committee is meeting in Washington, DC, and this topic is one of the agenda items. If you have a strong opinion, please feel free to share it with me and I will pass it on, or directly with Mark Moldwin, who is the EiC liaison on the Pubs committee.
Personally, I am not sold on this idea of attributing authorship at the sub-paper level. I see its potential usefulness, especially for long lists of authors, but to me “the paper” is already a nice-sized unit.