Recently I received a manuscript draft from my project collaborator with my name on the author list. In my capacity as co-PI I was happy to glance over another manuscript for a soon to be finished project . But as I lately have been caught up with many extra work, I had no time to deeper engage with this manuscript, and asked my young collaborator that she should take me off the author list. She then reminded me of my status as co-PI in the project and my past contributions which led to the making of that very paper, thus justifying my authorship. But I had no time for the extra work on this paper and felt I should do so if I wanted to warrant co-authorship.
In the end, I asked her that she should just mention me in the Acknowledgement, together with the supervisor of a young visiting researcher from another country. This postdoc had joined my group for some months and had had the opportunity to work in the aforementioned project and also work on the paper and thus gain co-authorship. Looking at it from this perspective, I was happy that the visiting postdoc’s supervisor in the other country and I could now document our new and informal collaboration in this Acknowledgment, along with the travel grant number of the visiting postdoc.
Few days later, by coincidence, I met on our campus a colleague who had been working with a former Phd student in my group over several years on an informal project which had made it to a manuscript draft, but not yet to a publication. As I had been following and peeking over the progress of this work for such a long time, I told my colleague I was happy that the publication would now materialize, and he said we should meet altogether soon to finalize details and I then should become co-author of that paper. I replied with a “… no – that’s not necessary, I am happy to be mentioned in the Acknowledgement”, and after a short verbal struggle with my dear colleague I begged him “Acknowledge the Acknowledgement”.
Being co-author of as many high profile publications as possible is important for a career in science. This bears certainly the potential of abuse, such as a claimed authorship, where no authorship is due. This is why organizations like the National Science Foundation, the German, the Swiss and the European Science and Research Foundations and also the ACS provide rules and ethical guidelines about what constitutes an authorship for a publication.
Certainly we want to bring in ourselves in the scientific work and in the publication as much as possible. But as life has limits of various kinds, we may end up in an Acknowledgement, which unfortunately is not always valued by our employer, funding agencies, professional organisations, search committees and the like. The Acknowledgement is not really part of the performance metrics these days, except maybe for the funding project number.
Therefore, I would like to urge everybody to responsible look into a list of authors and co-authors of a publication, and also in the Acknowledgement. The contribution to a project and a publication can be important, can be material, can be even critical, and still formally not satisfy the criteria for authorship. Yet, this important your contribution should be acknowledged by your peer – up to the hierarchy – with a serious and well-deserved credit. In short, acknowledge the Acknowledgement.