Pitfalls in author ordering

Apparently the number of co-authored papers in political science is on the rise, and there are questions on how to order the author names. I had never heard the phrase “the tyranny of the alphabet” before to refer to alphabetical author ordering, but I know that since conventions are different in math/statistics, computer science, and electrical engineering, there ends up being a lot of confusion (esp. on the part of graduate students) as to who actually did “most of the work” on a paper. Fan Chung Graham gives a succinct description of an ideal:

In math, we use the Hardy-Littlewood rule. That is, authors are alphabetically ordered and everyone gets an equal share of credit. The one who has worked the most has learned the most and is therefore in the best position to write more papers on the topic.

This ideal doesn’t really hold in electrical engineering (or computer science, for that matter), and can lead to some dangerous assumptions when people’s conventions vary or when you are doing interdisciplinary work.

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