Trend toward multiple authors in research publications: Failure of the universities to support research



In a previous letter to this column [Fraser-Smith, 1979] one of us drew attention to the marked decline since 1950 in the percentage of single-author papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research, 1, Space Physics (JGR 1) and the commensurate increase in the percentage of articles by three or more authors. The decline in single authors is certainly not confined to JGR 1, as is shown by more recent work (according to the Institute for Scientific Information, which indexes 2800 journals, the average number of authors per paper rose from 1.67 to 2.58 between 1960 and 1980) [Broad, 1981], so it seems clear that there is a widespread change taking place in the way scientists report the results of their research. It is perhaps important for us to point out that this is not an academic change; it is taking place right now, and most readers of this column are likely to be affected by it.

There is undoubtedly an element of fashion involved in the decline of single authors, and it may well be that what we are all experiencing individually as scientists is a subtle process of rhinocerization, as described in the play by Ionesco [1960]. However, it would be unusual for a fashion to persist for 30 years or more unless other more substantive factors were involved. The question is, what are these factors?