Pragmatics of authors-name order

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Feb 25 02:21:14 UTC 2004

On Feb 24, 2004, at 8:57 AM, Lesa Dill wrote:

> In scientific publications, the norm is that the primary
> investigator's name is
> listed last.  That struck me as odd when I first began studying
> molecular
> genetics.  I assumed if there wasn't an arbitrary alphabetical
> listing, the first
> name was that of the major researcher or professor supervising the
> work. I guess
> I should never assume anything across disciplines. ??

a quick look at the most recent issue of Science makes me dubious about
this.  the editorial is by
   Kennedy, Austin, Urquhart, & Taylor
(of whom kennedy, the editor of the journal, is certainly the principal
person involved).  there's a NewsFocus (reportorial) piece by
   Triunfol & Mervis
(which i take to be major-contributor-first).  the Research Articles
begin with something in physics by
   Lyne, Burgay, Kramer, Possenti, Manchester, Camilo, McLaughlin,
Lorimer, D'Amico, Joshi, Reynolds, & Freire
(i have no idea what's going on here.)  it goes on like this, article
after article.

there 's one two-authored piece, by Terman & Kolodkin; terman and
kolodkin each credit two grants (neither of them joint); terman is
cited in one reference, kolodkin in two; and correspondence is directed
to kolodkin.  (they're both at john hopkins.)  but then it turns out
that Medline shows 14 articles by terman, going back to 1999, but 35
articles by kolodkin, going back all the way to 1983, so kolodkin is
presumably the senior of the two.

i can't find anything in the various guidelines for authors that speaks
to the order of contributors.  they do tell you to omit academic
titles, but say nothing about the ordering of names.  so i now suspect
that any conventions about ordering are informal and unspoken, and
there might well be several (incompatible) ones.

arnold (zwicky at

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