Young scientists beginning on their journey toward scientific grandeur may ponder whether or not to collaborate with those already established, the bigwigs. They need ponder no further. All they need to do is resolve the conflict of the wigs.
Leimu et al. (2008) conducted a study on how the presence of well established scientists, bigwigs, affect the number of citations a paper gets. They found that the mean citation rate was higher for papers with a bigwig present than for those unfortunate enough to publish without a bigwig. This difference may reflect the actual contribution of the established big shot, or it may reflect a tendency for other researchers to be drawn to the paper by the name they recognize as belonging to a bigwig. Interestingly, the effect of the bigwig’s presence on the author list disappeared when the total number of authors was four or more. The authors of this peer reviewed letter (some of whom may or may not be bigwigs them selves) regard this disparity as a result of the summed effort of non-bigwigs adding up to counterbalance the benefits of having a bigwig in the team.
The citation rates of papers co-authored by a bigwig decreased with an increasing number of low profile names. Thus, bigwigs may want to restrict the number of co-authors, a situation some students may well recognize. The big shots may still benefit from having many low profile co-authors as the effort put into the paper diminishes and more publications may be generated.
The average and cumulative h index of papers including and excluding a bigwig also show that bigwigs do improve the scientific impact of papers. Mean h was highest for single authored bigwig papers and declined with increasing number of
”nonames”. The average h of papers lacking the glamorous presence of a bigwig, in fact, did not change at all with an increasing number of authors. The cumulative h did increase but was always inferior to that of papers blessed by the presence of a bigwig author. The conclusions drawn from this study could be summarized as follows: bigwigs should publish alone, nonames should gladly congregate in numbers on author lists as they have little to loose in terms of scientific grandeur. However, if a noname succeeds in enticing a bigwig to co-author a paper he/she should refuse other nonames authorship. There seems to be a conflict between the interests of bigwigs and nonames, the solution of which may be the decreasing per capita effort of lengthening author lists.
Think about that before you dilute the impact of your name.
Leimu, R, Lortie, CJ, Aarssen, L, Budden AE, Koricheva, J &Tregenza, T. 2008. Does it pay to have a “bigwig” as a co-author. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6: 410-411.