What do you have to do to be an author on a scientific paper? This question is critically important to our discipline. Authorship is the currency of academia. It determines whether we get jobs or grants, and serves as the primary means by which we communicate our accomplishments to the scientific community.
However, it is sometimes difficult to determine who should be listed as an author on a given paper. In this era of Big Data, synthesis and meta-analysis papers can integrate the work of hundreds or thousands of individuals into a single study. These papers are important; they are often highly-cited, and enable researchers to draw broad conclusions that would be impossible with relying on their own data alone.
The optimal way to attribute credit for the data that goes into a meta-analysis is controversial. Many meta-analysis papers list a small number of authors; usually just the people who synthesized the data, analyzed it, and wrote the paper itself. This can become frustrating for field biologists who collect the actual data that appears in syntheses conducted by other researchers.
Should those who actually collect the data in the field be listed as authors in meta-analyses? A controversy on this topic emerged over the past few days over Twitter between a slew of prolific scientists who study biodiversity and conservation. The story begins below: