Academia question:

I'm co-authoring a research paper with three others. None of us wants to be lead author; we want the responsibility shared and we do want names to appear. Is there a way to do this?

Alternatively, is there a way to avoid a lead author by leading with a collective pseudonym or something similar, and then listing authors after this? Is there a "protest standard" for people who object to this culture? Has anyone any experience or seen how others have done this?

@josias not really in academia, because what happens is the first name alphabetically (mine) would be listed as "lead author" and take precedence in later scoring and acknowledgemens. I don't want that, and neither do the other authors, so we are looking for a way to distribute the credit evenly.

@ephemeral There have been some cases. I remember one related to Mathematitians and their research signed as Nicolas Bourbaki.

@monmac I like this. For the sake of the two PhD students who want to gain credit, we'll have to include their names anyway, and to not make it too odd all four names should really appear then. But I like the idea.

@ephemeral I guess you would have to ask the editor for permission nowadays, but in the more relaxed past it was possible to publish under a pseudonym.

William Sealy Gosset published the t-test under the pseudonym of "Student".

It is quite common for authors to indicate in a footnote that several should be seen as first (or last) authors and contributed equally.


Great, thanks for this and for taking the time to write. I like Gosset's idea and might just borrow from that.

That's good to know about a footnote too, but that doesn't mean that the indexing systems (like Google Scholar) would follow the instruction. I worked on a project a few years ago about redesigning the z-index for papers and so much of it is automated; we just want to avoid any misplaced credit.

@ephemeral What is a "z-index"? All bibliographic measures I know treat all authors equally and as 100%. (Which is probably a main reason that under the publish or perish micro-management system the author lists get longer and longer.)


Sorry, typo on the index, I was doing some 3D work earlier. I meant the H-index.

The H-index is a method of calculating the value of an academic publication. It is designed to prioritise accepted science but it is fraught with problems. One of these is the lead author issue - whatever name appears first automatically gets a higher ranking as they are assumed to be lead author, and subsequent papers by that person share that higher ranking.

@ephemeral Any index is fraught with problems. The main one being that it is an index and not an engagement with the content of the study.

But I have never seen anyone use the position in the author list when computing a h-index. Every author is treated equally. Also Wikipedia simply speaks about "authors".

So smart scientists invite many colleagues to co-author their papers and agree or hope for them to reciprocate. That gives everyone a higher h-index without additional work.


True re index, of course. Also scientists sharing co-authorship seems a bit like gaming the system, not that I have any problem there.

I only worked on the H-index for a short time. The professor I worked with proved that his score on Google Scholar was higher than Larry Page's because of his lead authorship on one paper(!)

All I mainly want to avoid is one name appearing continuously: (Starr et al) instead of (Starr, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison).

@ephemeral Yes, when citing the first author would always have a prominent place (if you have more than 2 authors). That problem can only be removed with a pseudonym.

I once had as last author a name of a group (many people had contributed a little bit). That was accepted. Why not do that for the first author and explain in the footnotes or acknowledgements who the group members are.

@VictorVenema I really like that idea. I'd also love to acknowledge the other human and nonhuman collaborators so that might be the best idea. Thanks for the thoughtful responses!

@ephemeral if the alternative won't be possible, it might be an option to let the contributor who'd benefit the most from lead authorship have it, e.g. who has the least papers in their name, or who has the least overall privilege.

@cadadr yes, this was my fallback plan. There are two PhD students who would both benefit. It means little to me as I'm not seeking a full-time academic career. Thanks for the suggestion.

author list culture in lab science 

@ephemeral my field does not have a culture that lists of authors encode secret information about who contributed how much (the closest is author list + "with contributions by Otto Normalburger and Mona Müsterfrau and art by Jay Doe")

author list culture in lab science 


Unfortunately part of the issue I am trying to get around is the automatic indexing by platforms like Google Scholar, which puts weight on the first author. My field (visual art) also does not prioritise authors but the systems that index can still do so. The field that we are publishing in (interdisciplinary: history, epidemiology, data analysis and art) is a mixed bag so we want to try to get it right.

author list culture in lab science 

@ephemeral in general you are not responsible for how others interpret you. What field is the journal from? Norms there should help, but alphabetical order is a good clue to readers

author list culture in lab science 

@ephemeral I am confused because all I use Google Scholar for is to find who cites something I am interested in. Anyone in Tirol who uncritically trusts Google results would have long since driven or biked over a 70 degree slope that a Google Map does not feel the need to show :)

@torsten_torsten Thank you, if for nothing else, then for introducing me to Luther Blisset. I had not come across this gem before!

Wild answer, I am not in Academia 


Is there any responsibility associated with beeing lead author? If not, could you maybe get some random person ? ( like: my 9 month old child )

@El_joa @ephemeral instead of making the cat the co-author, make the cat a lead author

@El_joa - I really like this idea. We are working with animals so maybe we could include the name of one of them.

So in that vein, @pixouls you have nailed it!

@ephemeral in mathematics authors are listed alphabetically. but I guess this is not a solution.

Thanks @tommy

I appreciate this. I have mentioned on a few of the other toots why alphabetical is a bit problematic. It's interesting to see how different fields have different rules though - I had forgotten this. I have mostly published in art/social science journals, and occasionally what are called "hard" science paper, and the rules have always been a little different from one to another.

@ephemeral this probably isn't a good solution, but in math (at least the stuff I do) the authors are listed alphabetically.

If the authors do have their names in an order (which isn't necessary in a good solution I think), listing in alphabetical (or random?) and noting as such on the front might work

It doesn't seem ideal to me though

@postulate Thanks for this suggestion, and for your thoughtful consideration of it.

Yes, a few people have mentioned alphabetically listing. Unfortunately, it does come with a catch (as I mention in some other toots on this thread): My name would be first alphabetically. I would rather that future references are not cited as ("ME" et. al 2021), and would also rather that my academic profile (which is of little consequence) would not be given more precedence because my name appeared first.

@ephemeral @pixouls Depends on field, but then so does the importance of “lead author”. Listing alphabetically and perhaps explaining in a footnote or section is the best I’ve seen regularly.

The first paper on Plan 9 arranged the authors’ names so that, when combined with the institution, it was in the shape of the AT&T bell. Obviously not applicable to everyone, but definitely my favorite approach.

@a @pixouls

That's a great idea for Plan 9! Maybe we could find a way to make our names aesthetically pleasing (the piece is about animal disease so maybe an animal shape?!)

Yes, "lead author" isn't really considered in many disciplines, but unfortunately can be in both indexing systems and in human reading, as I've gone through in some of the other comments on this thread.

@ephemeral usually this is done by putting asterisks behind the authors' names and a note that it is an equal contribution

@eichkat3r Thanks for the comment. That is a good idea for future readers, and we will definitely do something similar. But as I noted in a few other comments, even that comes with some issues, particularly with automatic indexing systems, which is what we're trying to avoid mainly.

@ephemeral I have seen people add a note that the paper is fully joint work and the order of authors doesn't reflect degree of contribution. (But, in my field, we don't have a strong idea of 'lead authors' anyway. If A & B are the authors it's assumed that they share the credit equally.)

Thanks @twsh - I like this and it has been suggested in other comments too.

In my field this is also the case, however as I have mentioned elsewhere on this thread, that doesn't mean that indexing systems or human error won't attribute more responsibility to one person just because their name is first. For example of the latter, a paper cited (Hodgson et al 2021) has a different impact than (Hodgson, Fionnáin, Jones and Jackson 2021). We just want to ensure that it is clear there is no priority

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