Monday, May 21, 2012

Going for Gold

First or fourth?  That is the question.

An Moens finally contacted the JMCC editor late Sunday night about adding me to the list of authors.  She has proposed putting me down as the fourth author.  Part of me just wants to accept this and move on, but I can't help but think that this would screw me over in the future, mostly because a freelance science copyeditor who can lay claim to having written and published a review on doxorubicin-induced cardiomyopathy is a lot more impressive than one who can't.  And that's the problem with being fourth:  I would never be able to say that I wrote it.

Scientific publications are funny that way.  It doesn't matter how many authors are on it, the first author is the one who gets the prestige for writing it, the last author is the one who gets the recognition for coaxing brilliance out of the first author, and everybody else sort of floats about the middle, added depending on their level of contribution or, in some cases, the state of laboratory/departmental/institutional/field politics.

I'm not after prestige, not exactly.  I do feel that since most of the work is demonstrably and clearly mine, and the contributions of the others are so secondary, that anything less than first would be a sham.  Furthermore, I had worked on this for about a year with the expectation of being first author on it, barring exceptional changes being made--i.e., that the text was mostly someone else's, that a lot more editing had been done on it.  I have honored such expectations held by others--I do not insist on authorship, or even acknowledgement (I do insist on getting paid, these days, which I consider compensation enough) on the papers that I edit and sometimes contribute more to, word-wise, than the original text.  I'm not one to quibble about authorship order over a paragraph or two.  But as I mentioned elsewhere, most of the text is copy-pasted directly from my draft, and the parts that are not copy-pasted directly from my draft have received minor, mostly cosmetic, edits, at best.  

I also feel that the time to quibble over author order--a time when I might have accepted second or even third--was when the papers were being filled out for the publication process.  I was never contacted by anybody about it, nor was I ever told that the review had been published (I had to discover this for myself, in a "Hmm, I wonder if that's out yet" round of PubMed). She, herself, has admitted that she should have done this, so why didn't she?  The implications of her silence--that I would never know, or that if I did, I would be unable to prove anything--are quite dastardly.  Furthermore, I have given her every opportunity to say that this was a lapse in her judgment, that this was a mistake and should be corrected as soon as possible.  Instead, she has elected to insist that this was a joint decision reached by careful deliberation on behalf of all of the co-authors (something which I don't believe for a nanosecond, and at least one of the co-authors has since written me saying that he had no idea this had happened).  That she waited until after I had blogged about this, contacted the dean, her colleagues, the co-authors, and one of the ethics committees at Maastricht (the wrong one, it turned out, oops), leads me to believe that this is merely an attempt to smooth over the sh*tstorm before the fraud committee--the dean forwarded everything I sent him to the fraud committee--comes to their own conclusions about it.

And finally:  I've got nothing to lose by insisting on first-author.  If we cannot come to an agreement, I end up not being able to claim that I'd written a review--which is exactly the same predicament I'd be in by accepting fourth author.  If I insist on first, then I might just get it.

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