New article published – but did I deserve it?

One of these dots is me standing on a platform waiting for my train! Source: GNCnet.nl

This website is to keep track of all things that sound ‘sciency’, and so all the papers that I contributed end up here with a short description. Normally this means that I am one of the authors and I know well ahead of time that an article will be published online or in print. Today, however, I got a little surprise: I got notice that I am a co-author on a paper (pdf) which I knew was coming, but I didn’t know that I was a co-author. And my amazement grew even more the moment that I discovered that I was placed as the last author, a place reserved for senior authorship in most medical journals.

However , there is a catch… I had to share my ‘last authorship’ position with 3186 others, an unprecedented number!

You might have guessed that this is not just a normal paper and that there is something weird going on here. Well weird is not the right word. Unusual is the word I would like to use since this paper is an example of something that I hope will happen more often! Citizen scientists. A citizen scientist is where ordinary people without any background or training can help in a scientific experiment of some sorts by helping just a little to obtain the data after some minimal instruction. This is wonderfully explained by this project, the iSpex project, where I contributed not as an epidemiologist, but as a citizen scientist. If you want to know more, just read what I have written  previously on this blog in the post ‘measuring aerosols with your iPhone’.

So the researcher who initiated the iSpex project have now analysed their data and submitted the results to the journal Geophysical research letters, and as a bonus made all contributing citizen scientist co-author. Cool!

Now lets get back to the question stated in the title… Did I deserve an authorship on this paper? Basically no: none of the 3187 citizen scientist do not fulfil the criteria of authorship that I am used to (i.e. ICMJE), nor fulfil the criteria of the journal itself. I am no exception. However, I do believe that it is quite clear for any reader what the role of these citizen scientist was in this project. So this new form of a authorship, i.e. ‘gift authorship to a group of citizen scientists’ is a cool way to keep the public engaged to science. A job well done!

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