I’ve been having a number of conversations about authorship lately. This is an increasingly important issue, as can be seen by the growing amount of multi-authored papers and, especially, the increasingly common appearance of papers co-authored by PhD supervisors and their students. This isn’t always (or even mostly) wrong; we just have to understand the right and the wrong way about it. The above video has some excellent observations about this, and all I want to do in this post is to identify one don’t and two dos.
Don’t think of authorship as an honor. That is, don’t think that you are winning something by being an author or that you can do someone a favor by making them an author of a paper that you wrote. Do bring in a co-author if you think they can make a contribution to your paper, and if someone has made a substantial contribution to your paper or to your research then you can consider asking them to come on board as a co-author. But in that case do also remember that being an author brings responsibility. An author guarantees that the data was collected in a sound and responsible manner and that the paper was written with care, i.e., with respect for the sources.
An author is implicated in the quality of the paper and can, of course, take credit when the paper is good. But if parts of the paper turn out to be plagiarised, or the data turns out to be fabricated, all the author’s share the blame. Authorship, that is, is not an honor one bestows; it is a responsibility one takes for the contribution one has made.