End the tyranny of alphabetism in social science?

Political science as a discipline lacks any convention on the order in which authors should be listed in co-authored publications. As a result, the order of author’s surnames currently provides no information to other scholars, hiring and promotion committees, and other reviewers about the relative contributions of each collaborator.

That is David Lake writing in PS. His suggestion: adopt the more informative standard of ordering by relative contribution.

The usual response: civil war between co-authors. He has several counterarguments, but this is by far my favorite:

other disciplines have succeeded in establishing professional norms that do deal with these sensitive interpersonal issues. While Political Scientists admittedly are not the most socially adept set of individuals on the planet, I cannot imagine that we are worse on average at negotiating interpersonal relationships than our physical science colleagues.

As someone whose last name begins with the letter B, I should point out the selflessness of blogging Lake’s proposition. I even agree him.

Or perhaps I’m not so selfless. A startling number of my coauthors come earlier in the alphabet, most conspicuously my wife. (That was pretty much the only reason I could come up with for her to change her name: I would come first. For some reason that didn’t seem to convince…)

7 thoughts on “End the tyranny of alphabetism in social science?

  1. Well, I’m early in my career and don’t have this problem yet. But if you could fix this up by the time I face alphabetism with last name Webster, that would be great.

  2. But it could provide an instrument for anyone wishing to investigate the causal effects of reputation…

  3. The other problem is the “author inflation” that is terribly present in other fields. Look at the economics papers written by physicists and computer scientists: am I really supposed to believe that 6 or 7 people made meaningful contributions to a theory paper? Economics has the benefit of only giving credit to authors who were instrumental in the ideas of the research, and giving only brief mention to the RAs who code the models, etc. I think this is how it should be.

    It also goes without saying that very junior people are essentially never lead authors in “many author” fields, so it is tough to believe that listing author by prominence gives much insight as to who did the work.