In less than a decade, Dr. Aad, who lives in Marseilles, France, has appeared as the lead author on 458 scientific papers. Nobody knows just how many scientists it may take to screw in a light bulb, but it took 5,154 researchers to write one physics paper earlier this year—likely a record—and Dr. Aad led the list.
His scientific renown is a tribute to alphabetical order.
“The challenges are quite substantial,” said Marica McNutt, editor in chief of the journal Science. “The average number of authors even on a typical paper has doubled.”Of course, it is true that in some fields doing any significant research requires a large team, and that some means of assigning credit to team members is necessary. But doing so by adding their names to an alphabetized list of authors on the paper describing the results has become an ineffective way of doing the job. If each author gets 1/5154 of the credit for a good paper it is hardly worth having compared to the whole credit for a single-author bad paper. If each of the 5154 authors gets full credit, the paper generates 5145 times as much credit as it is due. And if the list is alphabetized but is treated as reflecting contribution, Dr. Aad is a big winner.
How long before the first paper is published with more authors than words?