Friday, July 8, 2011

Choosing Your Co-Authors Carefully

The choice of your co-authors in academic work can be very important - you all have to be able to bring something to the table, and hopefully there'll be enough synergies to ensure that the paper (or book) is better than any of you could have achieved individually.

I must say that I've certainly been extremely fortunate with my own past and current co-authorship "liasons".

There's plenty that could be said about deciding on the order of the authors - but I'll leave that for another post. That being said, there may be some other interesting considerations.

I was recently re-reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In Chapter 6 Hawking has a great story about an important quantum physics paper published in Physical Review in 1948. Two of the authors were George Gamow and his Ph.D. student, Ralph Alpher, at George Washington University. Gamow, persuaded the renowned physicist Hans Bethe to join them as a co-author, simply so that the final line-up of authors was Alpher, Bethe and Gamow.

A much more detailed account of the background to the "Alpha-Beta-Gamma" paper is provided by Simon Singh, in his book Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. The paper, titled simply 'The Origin of Chemical Elements' was (Singh, p.323) "...a milestone in the Big Bang versus eternal universe debate", and "....the first major triumph for the Big Bang model since Hubble had observed and measured the redshifts of galaxies." (Singh, p.319).

Unfortunately, there was a darker side to this story that I was unaware of until Jeremy Austin brought it to my attention in a comment to the original version of this post (see below).

However, it certainly made me think about some possibilities for interesting co-authorships in other disciplines.

For instance, ........ they lived centuries apart, and their contributions to pure mathematics don't really overlap, but wouldn't it be nice if we could time-travel and get (Fields Medal winner) Klaus Roth to team up with Michel Rolle. A kind of mathematical jam session!

Moving closer to home, I see that both Yixiao Sun and Hyungsik Roger Moon have (separately) co-authored papers with Peter Phillips. However, it seems the first two of these econometricians haven't taken the opportunity to co-author a paper together. Pity - I'd enjoy that!

And what about trying to persuade Fallaw Sowell and John Pepper to cook up some interesting econometrics for us? Or perhaps my friend John Knight could collaborate with Rohit Deo? They'd undoubtedly produce a paper that was the epitomy of econometric clarity.

So, whatever your last name is, choose your co-authors carefully, and maybe even have a bit of fun in the process! 

© 2011, David E. Giles

3 comments:

  1. The Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper seems like a funny joke until one learns that Alpher spent much of his early career struggling against anti-Semitism in the academy and he never got any credit for predicting cosmic background radiation. Gamow gave away much of his student's accomplishment on a whim. Alpher died bitter. We do not need more academics like Gamow.

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  2. Jeremy: Thank you for pointing out something that I was clearly not aware of. I totally agree with your last sentence, and I've amended my earlier post.
    Again, thanks.
    DG

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  3. I enjoy your blog very much. Please keep up the good work! Best,
    Jeremy

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