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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Academic book editors and publications

Its a strained point of academic authorship - if you win the grant money and coordinate the project, do you get to put your name first on the eventual book even if you have written no more than 10% of it? Do researchers who wrote the bulk of the work get credit as editors - or even chapter authors - if they leave before the end of project, or later book, and their work is updated? In short, who gets credit, especially where academic reputations are dependent on their 'name in lights', and many researchers leave academia before their academic career has really started.
(Claim of non-virtue: I wrote a chapter with a young researcher [now increasingly eminent regulatory pro] six years ago in which the editors insisted my name was first on the authorship, presumably because I was originally commissioned individually and wrote most of the critical stuff in the chapter).
It has arisen with a bright young friend of mine who wrote huge chunks of an as-yet unpublished study on Internet censorship, much as I did in 2004 with a study that staggered into print 3 years later, Codifying Cyberspace. In my case, I was listed as an author, having written about 50% of the book (though 10-15% of that was updating and filling in the work of other researchers who left the project and pursued different research or career interests, Marcus Alexander and Christian Ahlert), but listed third not first. That was fine - particularly as alphabetical order would have given first listing to the person who wrote least of the book, and the first-named author both gave me a job, coordinated both project and book publishing/editing and wrote probably about a third of the book, and was thus first amongst unequals.
However, where a project includes a whole load of people and only the most senior are listed, no matter how much of the book they wrote, that sounds to me like academic free-riding. Not good, not good at all. Its no excuse to obliquely claim that their names will 'sell' the book, in fact that makes it worse as its virtually passing off others' work as their own, particularly where chapter co-authors are not listed in Table of Contents.
This piece of work from RAND is a fun example of how Cave and Marsden rescued a doomed project at the last minute. Note our billing....primary authors not project leaders. Troublesome business.

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