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Is having a surname beginning with “A” a big advantage? (journal article authors)

  1. Nov 22, 2016 #1
    I read that in some fields the authors of research papers are ordered alphabetically, and therefore having a surname with the letter “A” may give us an advantage since we would be among the first authors (and the first authors get more recognition than the others).

    Is having a surname which begins with the letter “A” a big advantage for a researcher in astronomy/astrophysics?

    If I have a surname which begins with the letter “M”, and I haven’t published any paper yet, would changing my surname to a name which begins with the letter “A” be a good idea? Or would the advantage gained be too small to make it worth the effort?

    Approximately what percentages of research papers in astronomy/astrophysics order their authors …
    … purely alphabetically?
    … half by contribution and half alphabetically?
    … purely by contribution?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2016 #2

    DaveC426913

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    one more:
    ... approximately how often does being the first name on a paper result in more recognition?

    If the answer is zero, then the rest of the questions are moot.
    Do you have any reason to believe that those who reference papers by author have a limited amount of space to write in?
     
  4. Nov 22, 2016 #3
    From what I read in many different articles (not specifically related to astronomy):
    Most of the time people who read a paper only read the first one, two or three authors and ignore all the other authors.
    Most of the time for promotion through the tenure track only first author contributions are important.
    Most of the time people quote a paper by saying "[name of the first author] et al." which gives recognition only to the first author.
     
  5. Nov 22, 2016 #4

    DaveC426913

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    Do you mean, literally, when reading the authors on paper, they read the first one and then immediately flip the page? How can you know this?

    Do you mean literally they only look at the frst name on the paper?
    That seems pretty darned unlikely since - as you pointed out - names are often listed alphabetically.
    That sounds like it would be a pretty egregious error.

    Is it not possible that, when it is important, all the authors of a paper are considered? I mean, I can see in a newspaper article, but surely that's not the kind of publicity you're after.

    I confess, I do not know any of these things, I'm just examining the logic and surmising.

    Perhap I should give the floor to others - you know, Greg B. et al. :wink:
     
  6. Nov 23, 2016 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    If the paper's authors are alphabetical, and the reader knows this, it's illogical to conclude that the first author gets more credit. If the reader doesn't know this, he likely has little credit to give.
     
  7. Nov 23, 2016 #6

    ZapperZ

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    If this is true, then the first 3 authors of the Higgs paper should have won the Nobel Prize.

    People in the know and involved in the relevant field are not that dumb.

    Zz.
     
  8. Nov 24, 2016 #7

    mfb

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    There are fields where authors are sorted by contribution - in those fields being the first author is important, but changing the name does not help.
    There are fields where authors are sorted by alphabet - in those fields being the first author is irrelevant, and changing the name does not help either.

    R. Aaij (LHCb), M. Aaboud (ATLAS), T. Aaltonen (CDF), V.M. Abazov (D0) and a few other people are widely known, but everyone knows they are widely known just for their name. It could even hurt: "Aaltonen - did I hear about him before? Ah, probably just because his name start with Aa."
     
  9. Nov 24, 2016 #8

    DaveC426913

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    Ah, these types of opportunists are easy to spot:
    Aardvark Roofing
    A-1 Plumbing
    A Stephenson's Rent-All
     
  10. Dec 3, 2016 #9
    This paper proves that having a surname which begins with an “A” is a big advantage in the field of economics.

    http://web.stanford.edu/~leinav/pubs/JEP2006.pdf
    http://people.hss.caltech.edu/~lyariv/papers/Einav_Yariv.pdf

    In economics, authors are ordered purely alphabetically, and having a surname which begins with an “A” is a big advantage.

    In psychology, authors are ordered purely by contribution, and having a surname which begins with an “A” is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.

    In astronomy, authors are ordered partially alphabetically and partially by contribution (generally authors are divided by contribution into two or three groups and inside each of these groups authors are ordered alphabetically), so it would seem logical that in astronomy having a surname which begins with an “A” is a medium advantage (an advantage smaller than in economics but bigger than in psychology).
     
  11. Dec 4, 2016 #10

    StatGuy2000

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    Omega Force, you are operating under the false assumption that being a first author will necessarily get more recognition than the others, for the simple fact that if researchers in a given field know that authors' names on research papers are ordered alphabetically, then the first author isn't necessarily the lead author and so they would discount the importance of the first name. This is true whether the field is economics, physics, mathematics, or any other field.

    So the only way that people's surnames that begin with "A" has an advantage is if the researchers don't know that the names are ordered alphabetically. But researchers would know beforehand what the author order convention is, so what difference does it make?
     
  12. Dec 5, 2016 #11

    mfb

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    Well, there can be an unconscious bias: You are more likely to read the first author name simply because we start reading things from left to right. Omega Force's reference suggests that this bias exists in economics.

    If it exists in experimental particle physics, it is only relevant for names starting with A, everything else and you won't be first author of relevant papers anyway.
     
  13. Dec 5, 2016 #12

    Ben Niehoff

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    In my field, we list authors alphabetically. Since we all know that this is the case, we are not biased toward the first name in the list (however, there can be some misunderstanding with funding agencies sometimes!).

    But we are biased in other ways. Typically the more senior author tends to get credit for things, even if their contribution to the paper was minimal. This is mainly a problem when citing papers in talks; it's very common to refer to a paper by the names of its more well-known authors, and ignore the other names (which are typically people like their students, or maybe people with non-European-sounding names). In actual writing, this is less of a problem, because we refer to papers by number as listed in the bibliography, and bibliography listings themselves always give the whole author list rather than abbreviating with "et al." (author lists are never more than about six people).
     
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