First authors: is co-equal genuinely equal?

Nature

  • CORRESPONDENCE

First authors: is co-equal genuinely equal?

‘Equal’ distribution of co-first authors on research papers should be a win–win concept — not just for those authors, but also for multi-disciplinary science. Yet some seek to reshuffle their respective positions on CVs for career purposes. How can we ensure that co-equal means genuinely equal?

Principal investigators and trainees must use the term responsibly, with endorsement by all of the project’s participants. Besides trainees who work side-by-side on a shared project, co-first authorship might be justified if one trainee supplies information that strengthens a crucial conclusion or spends months revising a paper abandoned by another trainee, for example.

My recent tweet (see go.nature.com/3sek93o) prompted suggestions for improving recognition of co-first authorship, such as by using an expanded citation format of ‘X, Y, Z et al.’, and by highlighting each as a first author with EndNotes in papers and on PubMed or Google Scholar. This would make it easier for faculty members to recognize participants’ equal contributions when evaluating them for promotion and tenure, irrespective of name order.

Nature 596, 486 (2021)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02310-2

Competing Interests

The author declares no competing interests

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