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The Order of Things

- February 25, 2010

“Scott Jaschik”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/02/25/polisci does a piece covering the recent debate in _PS_ on co-authorship, and coincidentally reminding me that I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for the last few weeks. In particular, I wanted to note “David Lake’s”:http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dlake/documents/LakePSessay.PDF piece, suggesting that we should throw off the tyranny of alphabetical ordering of co-authors’ names on articles, and adopt a new convention under which the names are listed in the order of relative contribution, but with the senior scholar (in a situation where there is a clear gap between a senior scholar and a junior scholar or junior scholars) coming last, where appropriate.

My first reaction is to note that John, Eric Lawrence and I have adopted a _far superior_ ordering system for a forthcoming article, in which the authors are listed in the order of their familiarity with the intricacies of Big Ten Football.[1] My second and more serious reaction – I wonder whether the ‘senior author goes last’ convention which, as Lake notes, is common in more scientific disciplines, is mostly a product of different funding structures. In the hard sciences, as I understand it (or possibly misunderstand it), the last author is not (as in Lake’s ‘senior scholar as mentor’ model) necessarily actually involved in the writing of the article at all. He or she may simply be the director of the lab where the research was done, or the PI on the grant. His or her job was acting as the funder or rainmaker for the project. Thus, the informational content of the last author position is quite specific – it tells you who secured the money and resources. This may make it more difficult to transplant the convention to political science, where large grants are the exception rather than the norm. As Lake correctly notes, name order conventions are often the product of power hierarchies (Lake of course is best known for his study of hierarchy in the purportedly anarchical international system), and it may be hard to transplant conventions from one system – with a particular set of power relations – to another. I suspect that another of Lake’s proposed innovations – explanatory footnotes which explains who did what – might be more viable with a bit of a push (it would also have higher informational content).

fn1. Read the next issue of _PoP_ if you think I’m bluffing. John and I are also going to be collaborating on a new piece, where I am proposing that we list the authors in the order of their relative dweebishness. Some might think that this is a stratagem on my part to gain the coveted first author position. These are the people who do not know the full story of John “Songbird” Sides’ carefully occluded past history.

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