Rise of

the Coauthor

(a very meta journal-club)

Travis Hoppe & Dan Appella

Author count histogram for a single issue of JBC


Purpose of this talk is to examine the trends of

journal article authorship

and other interesting facts from the front-end of a journal.


JCI (J. Clinical Investigations), PNAS (Proc. National Academy of Sciences), JACS (J. American Chemical Society), JBC (J .Biological Chemistry), Science, Nature, Cell.

For each journal, every table of contents was downloaded,
this gave title and authorship information for each paper.

Filtered for editorials, corrections, errata, book reviews, ...
Approximately 2.4K TOC and 655K papers.


Why not examine the abstracts, or the articles themselves?

  • Time/complexity issues

  • Publicly available data


LARGE project collaborations, removed from study.

Finishing the euchromatic sequence of the human genome

A Particle Consistent with the Higgs Boson Observed with the ATLAS Detector at the Large Hadron Collider

Characterization of the Martian Surface Deposits by the Mars Pathfinder Rover, Sojourner

Authorship distribution

In most cases the distribution of authorship follows a Poisson;
the mean is approximately the variance.


Assume a linear trend from last 15 years

Correlated to growth?

Bibliographics via Thomson-Reuters

Common metrics for scientific impact:

Total citations
Impact factor / Article influence
Eigenfactor (similar to Google's page-rank)

Single Authorship

a priori not the same trend as mean authorship...

Lexicographical analysis

Look for significant keywords in the titles

  • Remove stop words:

e.g. [the,first,has]

  • Apply stemming, lemmatization:

(acids, acidic) acid

Identify a canonical representative set for related words

Top keywords in an era


spectrum        4.24
structure       3.15
neutron         3.01
radioactivity   2.74


acid            7.32
chromatography  2.76
structure       2.68
cell            2.20


cell            12.59
structure       5.87
protein         5.13
human           5.01

Title length

Number of significant words in the title, some are quite verbose.

Verbosity Saturates

Is science really changing?


Some metrics: science budgets, big data, nationalities of postdoctoral students, number of international collaborations, ...

NIH Funding

Growth of Data

International growth

Authorship Growth

Can it continue unabated? Discuss!

  • More money larger science?
  • Grants favor international collaborations?
  • White bull effect?
  • Diluted second authors?

  • Is this a bad thing? What is lost?

Thanks, you.