Order of authors' names--need for an official policy?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Feb 27 18:08:44 UTC 2004

On Feb 26, 2004, at 5:27 PM, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:

> In a message dated 2/25/04 11:24:53 PM, zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
> writes:
> << so now, it seems, *nobody* has an actually stated policy. >>
> Does it seem worth doing something about? I'd be happy to take it up
> with the
> proper authorities at the American Dialect Society, but it is not easy
> to
> imagine what such a policy should (could?) say. LI's approach doesn't
> seem to
> have been a success.

i can't see a policy that authors would find acceptable.  the LSA lets
people order themselves as they wish (in Language and on papers
presented at meetings), the ADS does the same, and the AAAS, and (i
discover by looking at some back issues of Daedalus) the American
Academy, and every book publisher that i know of.  and so on.

it's yet another case of constraints in conflct (alphabetical order,
order of descending significance in the world, order of descending
contribution to the work, Grand Old Person Last out of politeness --
i'm almost surprised we haven't found a work with names ordered
phonologically, by number of syllables, for instance), with different
resolutions of the conflicts in different contexts.  this is, like it
or not, just the way the world works.  you could try to prescribe some
universal resolution, but the users of the system are going to rebel,
and for good reason, because they have other goals and these are
important to them.

given this background, it's distressing that tenure review committees
should (occasionally -- very occasionally, i hope) be weighting
first-authored papers more heavily than others.  but then tenure review
committees have been known to mindlessly count pages too.  the
committees, especially at high levels of review, tend to get desperate
at the size of the task (i can remember, with dismay, looking at files
for a hundred or more cases) and hope for easy gauges of worth.  but
there's no substitute for trying to understand the context and content
of a candidate's work.

i doubt that a prescription from any of our organizations would work to
eliminate such instances of human laziness and stupidity.  it's up to
those of us in academic institutions to speak up.

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

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