The forgotten middle authors of science, how there is an I in team

Stimulated by a recent blog post 12 very wise guidelines for surviving science in which @ad_mico reflects on some of his career to date “The applicant has too many papers where he is neither first nor last” struck a chord with me as in effect this is very similar feedback I have had on several fellowship applications.  Since World War II the scientific workforce has greatly expanded due to increased governmental funding, increased science education and commercialisation of such discoveries there has been a concomitant increase in scientific publications as a result with an increasing number of authors per article.  In part this is due to the increased multi-disciplinary nature of projects in which scientists from historically separate disciplines collaborate with each other, a good thing in my mind.  However the increasing emphasis placed on scientific metrics (many of which at best are likely to be highly inaccurate, at worst completely unreliable) and the increasing necessity to show that your work and by extension you have impact is helped fuelling the increasing author numbers on science papers.  Add this to a flat lining, if not decreasing investment in science, with significant increases in scientifically trained people and you can understand why there are such scrabbles for scientific authorship. Everyone knows it is what defines your research credibility.  So more papers, good, right?  Well not entirely, there is a somewhat antiquated view (in my humble opinion) that all that matters is either first or last authorship.  Unfortunately token authorships can be common in scientific papers and ultimately devalue middle authors that have actually physically and intellectually contributed to the work.  Therefore many scientists knowing this practice occurs (and may have participated themselves) exclude this impact as credible and focus solely on first and last authorships.  To me this is short sighted and particularly so in individuals that have contributed to multiple scientific fields (but I am completely biased), as it can highlight intellectual flexibility, potential scientific creativity and the competency to work between disciplines.  I like to contribute, working on multiple problems with multiple different people concurrently (I think it makes you more creative) and have done so in diverse fields of science, something I am personally proud of.  In the end however it appears that the academic scientific institution does not highly value such people and whilst science is ready for multi-disciplinary science it is not yet quite ready for multi discipline scientists, unless you are first or last author of course.

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