Co-Authors From Hell

28 November 2006 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

| Nicolai Foss |

Casual empiricism seems to indicate that co-authorship is constantly gaining ground vis-a-vis sole authorship (anyone who knows of any solid studies of social science authoring practice?). There are numerous forces that positively influence the choice of teaming up with other scholars for the purpose of writing books and articles, such as career concerns (writing with a Big Guy), hierarchical concerns (writing with a Local Big Guy may help your chances of promotion), political calls for co-authorship between academia and industry, and, of course, team-based benefits, such as exposure to new perspectives, effort sharing, the social experience, etc.

It is well known that there is a significant latent moral hazard problem in connection with teams (cf. this paper). But of course there is also a potentially heavy adverse selection problem. It does matter which type you pick to co-author a paper with. I have been involved in numerous co-authored paper projects, and usually I have been lucky with my co-authors. Indeed, Kirsten, Peter, Keld, Torben, Teppo, Joe, and Yasemin are exemplary and excellent co-authors.

But I certainly haven’t always been lucky.Here are some of the types that should be avoided (I have tried them all):

  • The Idea Man: This is the co-author who will discuss, full of enthusiasm, the initial idea for the paper. You then put the rudiments of the idea on paper, asking him to continue. Nothing happens. When you later meet him at a conference, he will ask in a somewhat insulted tone, what is happening to the paper “with his idea.” He effectively appropriates the idea, but is not willing to invest the time and effort to bring it further. Is likely to be a Big Guy.
  • The revision-averse co-author: This is the co-author who thinks that the first draft is the optimal draft. A variant is the co-author who cannot bring himself to revise a paper that has received a r&r. Likely to be a Rookie.
  • The opportunist: This is the co-author who is constantly strategizing and bargaining. For example, suppose you get an invitation to co-author a paper with him for a major journal. You begin working on the paper jointly and agree that the paper shall be sent back and forth between you. At some point, your co-author doesn’t respond to your mails. You are approaching the deadline. Two days before the deadline the manuscript arrives in your inbox, and you notice that the paper has taken a turn very different from what you discussed and that suddenly you are no longer the first author! His opportunistic hold-up works, because even after the hold-up it is still better for you to be second author on the paper when it is published in the major journal (Proposition: There are likely to be more co-authorship opportunism when the submission target is a major journal). Is likely to be a seasoned author and perhaps a Big Guy (but not really big; the Real Big Guys are usually generous).

Needless to say, all types must be avoided as the plague! Unfortunately, reputational mechanisms are imperfect, even in the ever-gossiping academic world. I wish I knew the the solution to the problem.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Ephemera. Tags: .

Economics of Department Stores The Decline of Sociology

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