Does using "et al." in reference citations make co-authors feel underappreciated? — R Voice

Does using "et al." in reference citations make co-authors feel underappreciated?

Kakoli Majumder
Kakoli Majumder Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 92 admin
edited July 16 in Publication Support

While first authors definitely deserve more credit (their responsibility is much higher than that of co-authors) but I've always felt this slight tinge of sadness when using "et al." in my citations. More journals have started using author contribution statements, and some even allow multiple first authorship, but the practice of using "et al." is quite pervasive. What are your thoughts on this? Can you relate to this meme?


  • Mdumiseni Mazula
    Mdumiseni Mazula Member Posts: 43 ✭✭

    Jesus I'm just speechless 😶 🤷🏽‍♂️🙈

  • Erin Owens
    Erin Owens Member Posts: 14 ✭✭✭

    I admit, I always feel guilty summing people up as "et al." With my co-authors, our practice has been for the lead author to appear first and everyone else to appear in alphabetical order. But then, even with citation systems that list 3 authors before the et al., it's always the W, V, and Z surnames that end up just swallowed by a giant ellipsis. I definitely support Author Contribution statements within the paper, but it doesn't change that feeling of really seeing yourself cited (or not). On the other hand, when some papers have 10, 20, or significantly more authors, I'm not sure how we could reasonably list all of them in our citations! It's a conundrum.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 199 ✭✭✭✭

    Hmm, this is an interesting one that I haven't really thought about before @Kakoli Majumder. On one hand, I do think it's sad that people get swallowed up by "et al." but then it's so engrained into the systems it's going to change (which is not to say it's right of course!) Mainly, I think, people are lazy...are people going to list every person if there are 10 authors?

    I do sometimes feel the pang inside when I refer to papers in the form "first author, year" either when speaking or in my writing. I think I feel it less when I am referencing as I tend to use Vancouver, so just numbers inline and then the full reference in the list at the end.

    I don't, however, feel it when it's me on the author list - perhaps because I still don't have loads of publications/conference proceedings, so any paper with my name on is an excitement still. I feel the pride of my work and I know that it will be associated with my Orcid/Researchgate etc. I actually think the world of technology has meant that author order has less of an impact. It's easier to attribute people's work to them with the different systems that exist now.

  • chris leonard
    chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 104 admin

    For this reason I prefer citation styles which don't use the et al format. The AMA-no-et-al style in Zotero is perfect in that the authors are listed in full and it uses a DOI hyperlink (which is another bugbear of mine - not being able to link to the paper). But editors of journals should appreciate this is a problem they can raise with their publishers.

    But it only works when there are fewer than 30 authors. I used to work in publishing in high-energy physics, where there were often hundreds of authors per paper - and while it was usual to say 'John Doe on behalf of the ZEUS project' - the ZEUS project participants were always listed in full in the paper. Whether all these people deserved full authorship is an ongoing discussion in HEP.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 283 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 16

    Interesting question, @Kakoli Majumder .

    Does using "et al." in reference citations make co-authors feel underappreciated?

    In my view point .....

    No. As far as the author list is decided in the order of contributions - with the first author contributing the most (ideas, experiments, writing, data analysis, etc.) and other authors contributing to lesser extents, there is no problem. This is the general rule in physical/engineering/biological sciences. Also, as far as individual author contributions are clearly stated in the credit statement section of the paper, "et al."should not be a problem.

    I dont have a problem with my name getting lost in "et al.", as far as I am given authorship and an appropriate position in the author list commensurate with my contributions.

    However, the rules are not always followed in authorship and credit assignment. Sometimes, rules dont exist.

    There are many cases where PIs/more senior academics/"favorites of the boss" get put as the first author to further their own careers.

    Sometimes, people of the lab are just added on to the author list despite doing nothing - merely for political purposes. In this case, the et al. provides a small respite to the first author (probably a poor Ph.D student or a postdoc) who slogged and did ALL the work...only to have people piggyback on his/her/their hardwork.

    The core issues I feel are

    (1) Not having rules for authorship/author list/position in author list

    (2) OR existing rules not being followed

    (3) OR having no room for discussion/negotiation/a say in coming to an agreement on author lists

    (4) AND having no recourse to contest authorship/authorlists/position in the author list (with the journals AND at the local instutions)

  • Yufita Chinta
    Yufita Chinta Member Posts: 88 ✭✭✭
    edited July 16

    Interesting question, @Kakoli Majumder Thank you for bringing this up.

    All I want to write down has been written by @Raj sundaram I do agree with the opinion. I do not mind if I become 'et al.' in my colleague's papers, as long as I have contributed in the co-author level. Yeah, the authorship remains unclear (in Japan), thus I asked about this during @chris leonard's webinar of editing a paper. I may detail the case:

    1) In one lab, I was asked to put the names of lab's member, all of them, while they had no contribution at all.

    2) In another lab, my name is not included even though I have contributed on the research and paper. It is because the boss doesn't want to become 'et al.'

    Well, I can't conclude, but it seems that authorship resulting in the who is okay or not to wear 'et al.' is boss-based decision, not the first author decision.

  • Kakoli Majumder
    Kakoli Majumder Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 92 admin
    edited July 16

    @Erin Owens I agree it's a conundrum. I agree citation styles that avoid using et al. is also not a clear solution in an age of hyperauthorship. I've always been in favor of listing authors by their contribution. But in fields that follow the alphabetical order, there's nothing you can do about it. @chris leonard has made a valid point though - this is something journal editors could raise with publishers.

  • Kakoli Majumder
    Kakoli Majumder Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 92 admin
    edited July 16

    @Raj sundaram and @Yufita Chinta I'm so glad you brought up this issue. This is a whole new discussion and I agree with you both on this. As long as you receive credit, it's still okay and true, with no et al. citation styles and author contribution statements, it's not as bad, particularly if author names are listed according to contribution. But not getting credit where credit is due or having to share credit with people who haven't contributed can be really painful. I remember you had raised this question @Yufita Chinta and well, much as we talk about setting clear expectations and discussing authorship claims at the beginning of the project, it's often not in our hands. The hierarchical culture of academia gives a lot of power to PIs and supervisors. While some countries and institutions have systems in place to address issues such as this, unfortunately, it still does not ensure fair distribution of credit.

    Thoughts on this @leonard waks?

  • Yufita Chinta
    Yufita Chinta Member Posts: 88 ✭✭✭
    edited July 16

    Thank you for remembering my question, @Kakoli Majumder Yes, it is. Japan is still very solid on hierarchical culture. But, I find a difference in my current boss who honestly says that he can’t neither be put as co-author nor acknowledged in my future papers written based on PhD research, although I’m working under his name now.

    I’m so touched by the gesture. There, I decided to adopt the gesture that would allow me to be a humble scientist.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 283 ✭✭✭✭

    @Kakoli Majumder and @Yufita Chinta

    Yes, Japan has a solid hierarchical system, which can be a boon or a bane (or a mix of the two) depending on the attitudes of the leadership. Protégé/apprentice-type relationships are ingrained in the culture (somewhat like the Indian Guru-Sishya parampara). This is supposed to inculcate a long-term deep relationship between the teacher and the student, with the teacher imparting a wholesome philosophical outlook which CAN be a good thing IF leaders understand that times have changed (from the perspective of the job market, economy, job securities, career and personal aspirations, funding/position competitiveness, etc.). Many times, this is not the case because the leadership is usually NOT diverse (a specific age-group, almost always one gender...).

    Unfortunately, amidst intergeneration wars and tunnel-visioned bubbles based on a "glorious" "past", the teacher-student relationship USUALLY devolves into mere power-play.

    That said - academia elsewhere (Europe, America, etc.) can be similar rigid power structures from an entirely different viewpoint (mostly based on money and resources), while boasting "flat" hierarchies.

    The common point however is the existence of power structure with a general lack of REAL accountability. I kind of keep repeating it on this forum. 😂

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 283 ✭✭✭✭

    Just as an addition to @Yufita Chinta 's point:

     the authorship remains unclear (in Japan)

    Observation: (Painting with a broad brush) Universities tend to be worse than say, National Labs. National Labs have more accountability with research and all funds (salaries) allocated directly from tax payers money. So, there are at least rules (about ethics, authorship, credit, etc.), and training (finance management, human resources management, about sexual/power harassment etc. ).

    However...(oh my, there's always a catch)...

    Implementation of the rules, effectiveness of the training on the ground, and recourse procedures to report/contest misconduct is a whole different animal. Complicated and difficult - to the say the least. For instance, financial misconduct (anyway rare...because of the rules, multiple checks at multiple levels and a mind boggling micromanaging bureaucracy) is very quickly noticed. Anything else (authorships, reporting/seeking recourse for harassment, etc.)...meh!

    And the levels to which rules are implemented varies a lot at the local level!

    In summary, Japan or not - if one gets into a good lab with a good boss/mentor/advisor and is surrounded by a non-toxic immediate environment, has someone they can go to to get issues sorted (boss/advisor), one can thank the universe for the cards dealt. 😂


  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 134 ✭✭✭✭

    If my co-authors have equally contributed to the study like I did, it is very unfair to become an et al. in a paper.

    But, let me share my story from my journey (and why from my part of experience et al. is fine).

    My first supervisor claimed to be the first author just because she was my guide. I had to negotiate with her and sometimes avoid whatever rubbish she was saying.

    My present supervisor thinks it is okay to put current lab members' names on the paper. That's how we can have names on more papers. Now, if I have to add names of people who did not contribute to my study or may be eligible to have their names on the acknowledgment section, despite that, I give their names as co-authors. Under such a scenario, the use of et al. sounds okay to me.

    But, what I think actually should happen is that only people contributing to the study deserve co-authorships and must not be mentioned as et al.

    The moral of my experience is so-called professionals lack proper acknowledgment ways. Professionals (pseudo) either doing things that they prefer or following their guides maybe. There is no single standard system for all to follow. We certainly need one.

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