Entropy in the List of Authors of Scientific Papers

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

These Russian scientists may all have contributed to one research paper.

by Arne Lundberg, Department of Orthopaedics, CLINTEC, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Ana Aguilera, Centre of Analysis, Treatment and Data Modelling, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Carabobo, Valencia, Venezuela; Aurelio Cappozzo, Department of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Rome "Foro Italico," Italy; Benjamin Michaud1, Department of Kinesiology, University of Montreal, Canada; José Garrido Yañez, Grenoble INP-Pagora, Grenoble, France; Chris T.M. Baten, Roessingh Research and Development, Group "3D Ambulatory Analysis of Human Movement," Enschede, the Netherlands; Eva Samnegard and KIDS, Karolinska Institute, Danderyd Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden; Franck Barbier, LAMIH UMR-CNRS 8201, Université de Lille-Nord-de-France, Valenciennes, France; Frantisek Zahalka, Faculty of Physical Education and Sports, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic; Fuad Ahmad Hazime, Department of Physiotherapy, Federal University of Piauí, Brazil; Georges Dalleau, UFR SHE, Laboratoire DIMPS, Université de la Réunion, France; Georgios Stylianides, Department of Kinesiology, Towson University, Baltimore, Mayland, U.S.A.; Heydar Sadeghi, Department of Physical Education & Sport Sciences, Kharazmi University, Teheran, Iran; Jean Boucher, Département de Kinanthropologie, Faculté des Sciences, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada; Jim Raso, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Karen Stylianides, Health and Human Development, Penn State Hazleton, U.S.A.; Kurt Manal, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Delaware, Newark, U.S.A.; Lasse Roren, Prophysics AG, Zurich, Switzerland; Laurence Chèze, Département de Mécanique, Université Lyon, France; Mansour Eslami, Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, University of Mazandaran, Iran; Marie-Ève Mathieu, Department of Kinesiology, University of Montreal, Canada; Martin Simoneau, Kinesiology, Laval University, Québec, Canada; Mohsen Damavandi, Faculty of Physical Education & Sports Science, Hakim Sabzevari University, Iran; Nader Farahpour, Physical Education and Exercise Sciences Department, Bu Ali Sina University, Hamedan, Iran; Patrick Salvia, Laboratory of Anatomy, Biomechanics and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium; Patrick Lacouture, Institut Prime, CNRS, University of Poitiers, France; Paul Allard2, Department of Kinesiology, University of Montreal, Canada; Phillip Gardiner, Faculty of Kinesiology & Recreation Management, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada; Stéphane Armand, Willy Taillard Laboratory of Kinesiology, Geneva University Hospitals and Geneva University, Switzerland; Tom Whitaker, Chief Executive Officer, Motion Analysis Corporation, Santa Rosa, California, U.S.A.; Anton Arndt, Karolinska Institute and Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden; Ugo della Croce, Biomedical Sciences Department, University of Sassari, Italy; Vicky Bouffard, Éducation, Kinésiologie et Récérologie, Université de Moncton, Campus d'Edmundston, Canada; Xavier Robert-Lachaîne, Department of Kinesiology, University of Montreal, Canada; and Mickaël Begon, Department of Kinesiology, University of Montreal, Canada.

    (1. This author has willingly withdrawn from the list of authors.)  
    (2. This author can be considered as first author even though he is not the leading author.)

In multiauthored papers the issue of sequence in the name of authors makes a posteriori assessment of their relative contribution difficult (Bennett and Taylor, 2003; Bhandari et al., 2003). There are common beliefs that the position of an author in research papers follows a distinctive pattern (Tscharntke et al. 2007; Bhandari et al., 2003). For example, the sequence-determines-credit approach reflects the declining importance of the author's contribution according to her or his position in the list. Another view is that the senior or important contributor is the last one mentioned in the list. This is representative of the first-last-author-emphasis order described by Tscharntke et al. (2007). To acknowledge alike contributions or to avoid disagreement among collaborators, family names can be listed in alphabetical sequence. All these methods undermine the second position in the list, which is frequently considered of interest and is often taken by the person who has contributed the most but has less than her or his fair share of recognition.

In a single-authored paper there is no confusion on who did what. We can justifiably assume that the author has done all of the work and much more, although ghost authors exist (Bennet and Taylor, 2003). With two authors, the first could have written the work while the second assumes one or many functions such as designing the study, analyzing the results or cleaning up after the experiments. A typical example is that of a graduate student publishing with her or his thesis advisor. Though their relative contribution is left to the imagination of the reader, the participation of each author can be somewhat divided evenly.

Scientists in their natural habitat.

When three authors are listed, there are several possibilities, since the responsibilities of each author can get more obscure when combining the above-mentioned methods in listing authors. One can assume the writing task while the others can share the workload assignment. For example, the first author could have written the work while the second author could have contributed substantially to the design of the experiment and the-last named person has conducted the statistical analysis or simply ensured that the wastebaskets are emptied at least once a month and that the graduate students are paid regularly. If more than three authors are present, the required order of authors relative to their respective contribution to the research is simply unclear.

This confusion leads us to propose the entropy hypothesis on the number of authors, their ranking positions, and their relative contributions in research papers. The tasks of publishing a paper can easily be distributed to a limited number of contributors, but with more than three it becomes clear that the other authors' contribution is uncertain. With four authors we can introduce the theory of the mysterious contributor corollary. This by itself is in support to the entropy hypothesis where the entropy directly related to the number of authors. Some authors include one or more mysterious persons in their lists of contributors. These are often heads of departments, deans, people funding the research, directors of laboratories, senior scientists close to retirement, etc. Their only input is not to contribute; often, this is enough to be an "author."

The entropy hypothesis does not limit itself to the number of authors and their positions in the list of research papers but also addresses the correspondence between position and contribution. For example, it is reasonable to assume that the first author has written the paper, but this is not always the case. In the present paper, the first author (A. Lundberg) was chosen because somebody had to be first and we needed someone who did not mind assuming the lead position of this article. The person who wrote the paper is the 26th author as shown in Table 1. He can be considered as the principal author even though he is not the leading author and has very little recognition for his work. There are three co-authors (1st, 31st, and 35th authors) who have revised the paper and justify their presence on the list. One mysterious author (B. Michaud) felt that his involvement was insufficient and has willingly withdrawn from the list of authors. We have recognized his thoughtfulness in mentioning it by a footnote in the list of authors as well as in the acknowledgements. In all there are 31 mysterious collaborators; their input is unknown and it should remain as such. Nonetheless, all have given their consent to the publication of this paper even though some of them do not necessarily understand the implications. For simplicity and harmony of our group the mysterious contributors are listed in alphabetical order of their first name. The last author, M. Begon, is the person who neither wrote the paper, nor funded the research, nor is the director of the laboratory where the work was carried out since no work was performed. There has to be a last name to the list of authors and we all felt that he fit the job well.

The U.S. Navy investigates "scientific research."


It is the firm belief of the present authors that there should not be more than three names on an author list, and rather than appear on a longer list of authors, one should withdraw willingly. Furthermore, the remaining authors should determine an order such that the respective work of each contributor is known, whatever it is. If not, then the lack of input from the mysterious authors should be officially recognized by all journals real, imaginary, or improbable. We hope that this paper will serve as a guideline to future authors and mysterious contributors as well.


The authors wish to express their gratitude to B. Michaud for willingly withdrawing from the list to reduce the number of contributing authors. Funding for this research was unavailable and for that we are thankful to all fictitious granting agencies for their lack of support. All authors would like to acknowledge our Swedish friend Olle Cranon, who has doubly supported our publishing efforts through many long evenings.


"Unethical Practices in Authorship of Scientific Papers," D.M. Bennett and D.McD. Taylor, Emergency Medicine, vol. 15, 2003, pp. 263--70.

"Who Did What?: (Mis)Perceptions About Authors' Contributions to Scientific Articles Based on Order of Authorship," M. Bhandari, T.A. Einhorn, M.F. Swiontkowski, and J.D. Heckman, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, vol. 85, 2003, pp. 1605--9.

"Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publication," T. Tscharntke, M.E. Hochberg, T.A. Rand, V.H. Resh, and J. Krauss, PLoS Biology, vol. 5, no. 1, 2007, p. e18


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2014 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

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Job of author is not that simple as it sounds, especially when we talk about academic authors. Scientific research paper writers have to remember some important points in making research paper such as use of explicit, criteria of authorship and quality of content . Professional research paper writers have to work with selfless dedication.
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