More Scientists Join Gangs

More and more, more and more scientists are ganging up to write research studies. It’s no longer unusual to see a paper that lists more than 500 – that’s five hundred – co-authors.

The journal Science Watch tracks statistics about which scientists publish where, when and how often. Every few years, Science Watch makes a brave plunge into the sea of so-called multi-author papers. Its most recent look shows that increasing numbers of papers have 50, 100, 200 and even 500 authors.

The most gaudy, of course, are the papers credited to more than 500 co-authors. During 2003, only (only!) 40 of these big group efforts were published. Then came a growth spurt. 2005 saw the publication of 131 of them, and subsequent years have seen production hold about steady.

If there were a prize for the largest number of co-authors, it would have gone to the 2,512 people credited with writing Precision Electroweak Measurements on the Z Resonance, which appeared in the journal Physics Reports in 2006. That’s a mild elevation from the previous record of 2,458 co-authors, attained just two years earlier…

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Improbable Research