What is it like to have 8778 authors on a paper? In a PDF, the author list alone takes up 17 pages. Someone tried to typeset all the names on the same page, and the words were too small to read.
A physics paper with 8,778 authors. I want them all to built a little city to live in together, with schools and parks and a nice cozy supercollider. https://t.co/EdTH4xK6Gu pic.twitter.com/2Ken7fc4fH
— Jason Priem (@jasonpriem) May 21, 2022
The paper, from CERN’s ATLAS Collider Collaboration, beats their previous record of 5,154 authors set in 2015.
In particle physics science, there are more and more papers as large as several thousand co-authors, and it is even more common for hundreds to thousands of authors. So that the paper published by the ATLAS group must be remarked. This paper has a total of xx pages, and the author list starts from page x.
With so many people involved in the study, it can be difficult to distinguish who contributed the most. Therefore, the convention for papers in this field is to list them alphabetically by surname, regardless of the first author.
Here is an interesting fact. There is a physicist named Georges Aad. Because of the two letters A in his surname, he ranks first in the hundreds of papers published by the ATLAS group in the past.
However, in 2016, a new academic star named Morad Aaboud appeared. In the future papers that Aaboud participated in, Aad could only rank second.
The phenomenon of thousands of people co-authoring a paper has aroused the curiosity of many people. For example, due to the long research period, the work units of hundreds of people may have changed when it is finally completed, and the pain of maintaining the author list is unimaginable.
The paper even had 10 signatories dead at the time of publication.
It has also been suggested that if all the experts are involved in the paper, who will do the peer review?
What paper needs 8,000 co-authors?
Back to this paper, I talked about the use of the Large Hadron Collider to study the Bose-Einstein correlations between particles.
The ATLAS collider used in the experiment was built in a cave 100 meters below the border between Switzerland and France. It is 46 meters long, 25 meters in diameter, and weighs 7,000 tons, equivalent to the weight of an Eiffel Tower in Paris.
ATLAS operates, with more than a billion particles moving at nearly the speed of light every second, colliding with each other. The amount of data produced is equivalent to 20 simultaneous telephone conversations for every person on the planet.
Of such a huge amount of data, less than one in a million is valuable for research.
Screening and processing data in the experiment is also a huge project, which needs to be supported by more than 130 supercomputers distributed around the world.
The ATLAS Collaboration is attended by 181 research institutions in 42 countries and regions around the world, including a team of 3,000 scientific authors and 1,200 PhDs.
Among the 8,000 signed authors of this paper, in addition to physicists, there are also a large number of engineers who maintain collider hardware, engineers who maintain IT hardware, and a large number of software workers who do data screening and analysis.
Cutting-edge research like this really can only be done by large-scale international collaboration.
However, the resulting inflation in the number of signed papers has also caused concern among some scholars.
“The Collapse of the Academic Publishing System”
As early as 2015, the research conducted by the two collider teams, ATLAS and CMS, caused a heated discussion in the academic community.
A 5154-authored paper with a more precise estimate of the size of the Higgs boson was published in Physical Review Letters. The paper version contains only 9 pages of references, and the last 24 pages are all authors and work units.
Another paper on the decay of rare particles was published in Nature at the same time. Due to the limited space of the magazine, it was finally decided that the author list would not appear in the paper version, but only published online.
Nature also wrote a review article at the time to explain this.
Astrophysicist Peter Coles also blogged about it, calling it “the collapse of the academic publishing system.”
He believes that if thousands of authors are involved in the writing of the paper, each of them may only need to write a few words, which is of course unrealistic. The reality is that the vast majority of the thousands of authors probably never read the article, let alone wrote it.
Like his field of astronomy, instrument makers are also included in the list of authors. These people aren’t literally “authors” at all, but they did contribute to this research.
Coles believes the underlying problem behind this is that it is unreasonable that a person’s contribution to scientific research can only be reflected in co-authored papers. He suggested that scholarly publishing could, like the credits of a movie, identify different divisions of labor and quantify their contributions separately.
A companion measure would be to change the system of judging a scholar only by the number of citations.
I have always believed that the modern scholarly publishing industry does not facilitate but hinders the exchange of research.
One More Thing
Finally, there are some interesting facts about the authorship of papers worth sharing.
8778 is not the paper with the largest number of authors at present, the highest record is as high as 57,000.
It was the study that participated in the prediction of protein structure through playing games. In addition to the core research team of 9 people, 57,000 people were gamers who participated at that time.
This article was published on Nature, and it is amazing to be able to log in to Nature even after playing a game.
Another netizen mentioned that a paper on the behavior of atoms published in 1975 had two authors signed, but only one was human Jack Hetherington, and the other was his cat.
This paper was actually completed by him alone, but according to custom, he used the plural pronoun “we” when writing. But the typewriter at that time couldn’t find and replace it. In order to avoid typing it all over again, he added the cat’s name…
It turned out that the paper had a great impact after it was published, and the cat also received an invitation to teach at the University’s School of Physics.
Later, when the paper was sent to the International Conference on Physics, the signature also used a cat’s paw print.
So, now, in this paper of 8778 people, maybe a few cats have been sneaked into it?