Did you ever wonder how the industry (in many cases but not always, a non-profit industry) of citations work? Who becomes a co-author on a masterpiece and who doesn’t? What can we learn from the acknowledgments about the politics of creating a masterpiece? Who are those inventors and who are the informal collaborators that usually are not mentioned formally and vanish as time passes? These and some more related topics were discussed in his talk (His powerpoint can be download here). I will try to bring some of them with my comments.
Just to give small examples – Michelangelo’s genesis on the ceiling of the Capella Sistina, was the work of many apprentices and students under the mentoring of Michelangelo. Today, 500 years later, can we name even one of them? why no credit was given to them, although they took part in creating this masterpiece? Who was Robert Boyle’s mysterious partner, that we know was the technician of most of his inventions? why he was never credited? Who should be credited for the invention of cloning Dolly? The technicians that worked on Dolly complained that their contribution is ignored.
Here are some statistics before analysis and speculations:
According to ISI data, published papers which involve multiple authors, specifically 50, 100 and 200 authors have increased tremendously from1981. I would have a wild guess, that if you check social science vs. exact science, you would find that these numbers applies mainly to exact science.
Can anyone imagine Foucault’s book “The Archeology of Knowledge” written by 50 different people simultaneously? And indeed most of the examples Blaise gave were from the exact and life sciences.
Is there a connection between the number of authors and the number of acknowledgments? Take a look at the two tables for example taken from JACS (Journal of the American Chemical Society).
Two parallel trends – the number of multi-author papers has increased and so the number of acknowledgments. Looking only at this table, one cannot conclude whether the increase in acknowledgments is bigger than the increase in the number of authors.
BTW, while most of the acknowledgments deal with thanks to financial supporters, and help in tools and technology in JACS, this changes when moving to other disciplines.
So the next figure below shows that the number of acknowledgments did increase more than the average number of authors.
So does it mean that people became more polite now and they mention anyone who saw even one word of their manuscript? or does it mean that the increase in the number of authors during the years should have been higher and maybe some of these acknowledgments should have been co-authors? so not politeness, but political consideration of reducing potential conflicts with co-workers?
But there are few problems with acknowledgments. Nobody remembers them, they are not recorded anywhere in a systematic way, and in the academia there is no system of incentives that will acknowledge the acknowledgments. So it is more profitable and worthwhile for a colleague to be cited than be mentioned in the acknowledgment. With citations researchers are being more evaluated. More citations more status. Blaise gave a wonderful example that when we use someones’ publications to develop an idea or to describe the literature we cite them, and therefore they are being rewarded. But if we ask a colleague to help us with a statistical analysis, and this colleague might even spend hours and hours the maximum we would do in the profession is to acknowledge them, not even one citation as a cure.
So if the world is going toward interdisciplinarity – maybe it is time to create also a system that will acknowledge the acknowledgments and by this reduce the politics behind them?
Blaise gave the example of Rob Kling. If you look at the following figure you will see that Rob Kling collaborated mostly with people who were in his environment (UCI), not necessarily people he preferred to work with. When he moved in 1996 to Indiana he stopped working with most of his UCI colleagues.
So who do we co-author with? are these researchers that one is really interested to collaborate with? or is it merely a matter of convenience and geography ? If one looks at the citations which Rob Kling used in his publications from 1972-2005 you will find that most of his top-citations were people who he co-authored with. The mechanism of the “rich gets richer” is quite evident here.
So do we tend to cite people we think their work should be cited or do we prefer to cite people we work as matter of convenience?
Some final words: as usual there are more questions than answers. But this lecture was an eye-opener with the way in academia one progress and a little bit about sharing intellectual properties in different ways and the meaning of them. It is time to consider diverse forms of contributionship, influence and impact.