What’s The Answer? (authorship heartbreak)

This week’s highlighted discussion generated a lot more chatter than many of them do. I didn’t see that coming at this site. But apparently it’s an issue that many groups have faced and had opinions on: what is the relative contribution of the wet lab vs bioinformatics side when it comes to the paper, and how to recognize that?

Biostars is a site for asking, answering and discussing bioinformatics questions and issues. We are members of the Biostars_logo community and find it very useful. Often questions and answers arise at Biostars that are germane to our readers (end users of genomics resources). Thursdays we will be highlighting one of those items or discussions here in this thread. You can ask questions in this thread, or you can always join in at Biostars.

Forum: Do bioinformaticians often break molecular biologists’ hearts by being the first author?

Recently I knew a molecular biologist postdoc who was upset since she was placed by her boss as a second first-author in a paper that she wrote from scratch. Her boss put a bioinformatician/biostatistician as the first first-author, with a reasoning to the postdoc that she would not have anything if they take out the data processing part.

And it turned out that she is not alone. From this postdoc’s facebook, I learned that some of her friends admitted that they also experienced a very similar situation: being a molecular biologist, did all the labworks, wrote the paper, but put as a second author while the first one is a bioinformatician.

Apart from politics in the lab etc., I wonder if this is really quite common. If it is, don’t you think it’s quite unfair for the molecular biologist?


It’s hard to assess from an anecdote what the real story was. I’m sure it was painful for folks involved. And, of course, at a heavily bioinformatics site, popular answers pointed out that often the bioinformaticians are the ones feeling neglected. But I thought it was interesting to highlight the tensions between folks on teams like this. And some pro-active awareness of this for people running labs might be in order.

It generated quite a range of comments. Some aimed at the publishing in general, some project related. Have a look.