Criteria for Authorship and Attribution - Case B3

Bob Powell, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry, has just completed a manuscript detailing the results from the first project in which he had taken a leading role. The focus of his project has been to discern the ways in which humans metabolize sulfites, a class of chemicals commonly used to preserve wines and dried fruits. Although he had developed the rough outlines of the project on his own, he owes much to individuals both inside and outside his lab. The assistance he received from others includes the following:
  • A colleague at another university, a toxicologist specializing in food additives, shared with Bob his previous work on the in viva activity of sulfites, information that allowed Bob to choose the ideal animal model for the experiment -- the Abyssinian field mouse.
  • A friend of his, who happened to be a wildlife specialist, provided Bob with much advice on rearing and maintaining a colony of Abyssinian field mice such that he would have a stable pool of animal subjects.
  • A highly experienced technician in the lab gave Bob advice on modifying an assay he had been using, which finally allowed him to measure successfully sulfite metabolites in mouse urine. This technician also assisted in writing up the methods section of the paper.
  • The number of assays that Bob had to conduct was quite sizable and more than he could manage on his own, given other demands of the project. Thus, an undergraduate college student collected most of the urine samples and conducted the assays yielding the data.
  • Finally, a senior researcher in a neighboring lab who took an interest in Bob's career offered to review the initial drafts of Bob's paper. By the end of the writing process, this researcher had helped Bob outline the paper, suggested a few additional experiments that strengthened the paper's conclusions, and made a number of editing changes in the penultimate draft that enhanced the paper's clarity.


  1. What kind of attribution should be given to each of these individuals who contributed in one way or another to Bob' s project? For example, who should be recognized as an author and who should receive an acknowledgment in the paper? Who does not merit formal recognition?
  2. What criteria should be applied when determining whether
    1. to list someone as an author?
    2. to note someone's contributions in the acknowledgments?
  3. What are the responsibilities of authors in representing the contributions of others?
  4. At what point in the process of conducting and reporting on one's research should decisions concerning authorship and acknowledgments be made?
  5. Are decisions concerning attribution entirely Bob's responsibility? Should he consult with others? Why or why not?


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