Studies involving hundreds, even thousands, of scientists are on the rise, but how do such large groups coordinate their work?
The existence of the Higgs boson was first posited in a trio of papers in 1964. Two of those1,2 were authored solely by UK theoretical physicist Peter Higgs and the other3 was co-authored by his US and Belgian counterparts Robert Brout and François Englert.
For some of us, the thought of collaborating with four other researchers on a research output might feel like a challenging and perhaps a taxing undertaking. Negotiating contribution and acknowledgement would seem a you tall order. But 10, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 or even over 5000? To describe it as Herculean doesn’t even come close. At this scale, do our current conceptions of authorship still work? This piece published in Nature in February 2023, dips into the issues.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic broke that record, with 15,025 co-authors on a research paper6 examining the effect of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination on post-surgical COVID-19 infections and mortality.
The term ‘hyperauthorship’ is credited to information scientist Blaise Cronin7 at Indiana University in Bloomington, who used it in a 2001 publication to describe papers with 100 or more authors. But with the rise of large international and multi-institutional scientific collaborations — such as the ATLAS consortium behind the discovery of the Higgs boson — papers with hundreds, even thousands, of authors are becoming more common. There are many legitimate reasons for this shift, but it is raising questions — and concerns — about the nature of authorship and the impact that hyperauthorship has on the metrics of scientific achievement.