AUGUST 12, 2013
Follow up. How many authors does it take…

I recently blogged here on General Surgery News about the fact that for several different specialties, the number of authors of research papers has risen exponentially over the years.

As is my nature, I was critical of this increase and blamed it on the "publish or perish" culture that pervades medicine and other sciences and the large number of new journals, which all are looking for content so they can make money.

A Twitter follower named @terpkristin ask me what my own experience has been. This is a fair question and I applaud her for taking me to task on it.

With some trepidation, I pulled up my CV and started counting.

Over the years I have authored or co-authored 97 publications, including peer-reviewed articles and case reports, review articles, book chapters, editorials and letters to journal editors.

My first article was published in 1975 and the last in 2010. That's a span of 35 years which is similar to the times covered in many of the articles on author proliferation.

After reviewing all 97 publications, the average number of authors was 3.0 with 23 having only me as the sole author.

Excluding everything but the 52 peer-reviewed papers, the mean number of authors was 3.5.

Looking at the peer-reviewed papers another way, the 22 papers written from 1975 to 1993 had an average of 3.2 authors, while those written during 1994 to 2010 averaged 3.6 authors.

This compares favorably to the numbers of authors listed in the articles I found on the subject and wrote in my previous post. For papers written in this century in the fields of plastic surgery, orthopedics and thoracic surgery, the average number of authors ranged from 4.0 to 7.5.

And I had only one paper with as many as 8 authors, which is way below the current record of 3,171 authors for a single paper as cited my my previous post.

Luckily, my inquisitor didn't ask me how many of my papers were any good. That's a different question.

Skeptical Scalpel is a recently retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last three years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 1000 page views per day, and he has over 6600 followers on Twitter.

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