I’ve noticed that I seem to have more papers with more authors – so I thought I would check to see if that trend is borne out in the data. Here is a graph of the number of authors in all my publications, against year of publication:
With a quick and dirty linear regression trendline: gradient is 0.169 per year with a p-value of 0.00733. So there is statistical evidence to support an increase in the mean number of authors per paper over the 24 years I have been publishing, from a mean of about 2 authors per paper in 1995 to a mean of about 6 authors per paper now (if you pretend that a linear regression is correct for these data – which it isn’t). Notwithstanding doing a better statistical job, I am happy to accept that the linear regression result is fair: I am writing papers with more co-authors. But why?
First, perhaps, is increasing depth of interdisciplinarity. All my papers are interdisciplinary – and many have authors from different disciplines – even my very first paper was written with academic medical doctors. But as my career has progressed there is increasing complexity – papers that describe research that includes both experimental and modelling work, or papers which contain three or more disciplines (not just two). Related to that is that I also tend to consult more widely about my work – so tend to have more authors who have contributed ideas, discussion, or secondary or tertiary supervision of students.
Second, perhaps, is that I am more open in my view of who becomes an author. Inclusion as authorship those colleagues who have contributed ideas or discussion or small elements (e.g. a database submission) can be a marginal decision (there has to be a boundary somewhere). In the past, I have tended to exclude, now I tend to include.
And so what? Actually, I feel happy and positive when I view this trend. I do not see myself developing as a ‘lone scholar’, but rather as someone who values working across boundaries and disciplines, including a wider range of people into my research. The problems we are tackling – especially antimicrobial resistance – needs this broader approach to be successful.