Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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A is for Aardvark and author. The economic implications of having a last name with an early letter in the alphabet

Posted: Jul 26, 2014 12:07;
Last Modified: Jul 26, 2014 18:07

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In many disciplines, when more than one researcher contributes to a paper, the authors are listed in terms of the relative contribution: the first author is assumed to have done the most work, the second the second most, and so on until the last position, which is often as prestigious as first.

In other disciplines, however, the tradition is to order author names alphabetically.

This can be unfair to authors whose names come later in the alphabet, because citation conventions for multiple author contributions usually spell out the names of only the first two or three authors.

But it turns out it can also have career and financial implications. As Marusic, Bosnjak, et al. (see?) report:

Economists calculated that with each letter closer to the front of the alphabet there was an increase in the probability to be tenured at top economy departments and receive professional recognition, as well as a significant increase of 0.41% in estimated salary return for an additional article with alphabetical authorship and a 3.3% chance that 1% lower ranked alphabet letter would increase total and annual publication output in mainstream economics journals (From Marusic, Ana, Lana Bosnjak, and Ana Jeroncic. 2011. “A Systematic Review of Research on the Meaning, Ethics and Practices of Authorship across Scholarly Disciplines.” PLoS ONE 6 (9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023477).).

On a positive note, it does give us new insults and methods of praise: “he’s so dumb he couldn’t get hired at Princeton even if his name began with double A!” Or “Rarer than a Zwierski in the Ivy league.”

See my followup: More on Aauthors and Aalphabetical placement

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