Here’s a new trick: multiple citations from one paper

The Honey Bee Genome Consortium published an analysis of the bee genome in Nature this week (abstract, full text). Under the heading “Another day, another genome”, the editorial is almost apologetic. “The publication of a genome sequence used to be so exciting. Is it now destined to be dull?”

It seems like a strange way to start a discussion of the work. Most people would agree that a genome sequence in itself isn’t that interesting, which is why most journals don’t accept a sequence alone. What’s interesting are the analyses, the comparisons to other genomes and the biological insights that are gained.

It strikes me that the issue here is not research merit, but the nature of publication itself. Many of us are of the opinion that the traditional model for scientific publishing is becoming increasingly flawed and irrelevant for the times in which we live – the age of post-genomics and the internet. Take a look at the author list on the bee genome paper. Authors are broken up into 30 or so teams. I’ve not counted the names but there must be well over 100. It’s notable that several authors appear in more than one team – hence the facetious title of this blog post.

Now tell me that if this is the future of author lists, it’s possible to judge the contribution and merit of an individual based on their citations and where they appear in a list. I would disagree with you and I would also disagree that using this measure to award funding to individuals is a sensible strategy.

In the past, fewer people did science and they studied fewer things in what we today would consider to be relatively isolated circumstances. Today, more people do science in bigger teams that are globally connected. There is no such thing as “rising to the top of the profession” when the profession is a global, community enterprise. Assessing the “worth” of individuals based solely on where they publish and where they appear on author lists is fast becoming ridiculous and it’s time to admit it and find a better way.

One thought on “Here’s a new trick: multiple citations from one paper

  1. Roland Krause

    Being an further-down-the-list author on a 30+-authors publication, I much like the break down into individual groups and prefer to have my name listed with what I have contributed to the project rather than only by the numerical index in the array of the authors.
    This is at least a step in the right direction. However, we will never find a way to way in the smart idea vs. two years of hard work vs. being clever of solving a problem in minutes in any kind of system and most people, particular those the hire people are well aware of the fact.

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