In Part I I argued that if you use other peoples’ data in your own paper, you should offer them co-authorship on your paper. In this part, let me make flesh out the theory behind my proposal, in particular why the policy exists, so that we can apply it where appropriate.
I had a math professor in college who made an analogy that has stuck with my all my career: the product of the Academy is ideas and research output and the currency we use to trade in this product is credit. We cite, we co-author, we acknowledge. This is at the heart of the AAS Ethics Statement’s rule: if someone did work that made your paper possible, you pay them back with credit in the form of a co-authorship.
Now, the policy is clearly too broad. Sometimes the appropriate currency is a citation, not co-authorship. In particular, if data have already been published then the norm in our profession is that you don’t need to include them as a co-author; you can just cite the publication.
In many cases, successful proposals are citable and appear on ADS. This provides another way to give credit for using other people’s data, although it is imperfect because proposals are rarely cited, so it’s not really a good way to accrue credit. It’s not a currency that is generally recognized by, say, promotion and tenure committees. If we could change that (make the citations worth more and make them common) it would solve the problem, but that seems more radical to me than my proposal.
Also, the AAS Policy does not define its scope. Which enablers of science deserve authorship? The AAS guidelines are no help here. What about the armies of PhD astronomers at STScI and IPAC that enable and reduce NASA space telescope data? The engineers who built the telescopes? The telescope operators? The staff that cleans the dorm rooms at the observatories?
There are professional norms here, but it’s surprisingly hard to articulate them. Note that I’m not defending those norms, just trying to figure out exactly what they are.
Going back to the currency analogy helps a bit here: in the norms of our profession, who needs and appreciates citations and co-authorship as professional currency that advances their careers? Not the cleaning and cooking staff at the dormitories. Many telescope operators do not, but many telescope staff astronomers do. Many people who write data pipelines and archiving software do. Certainly instrument designers and builders to, as do some members of the shops that construct the instruments. An imperfect shorthand for this might be “anyone eligible for membership in the AAS” (or their country’s equivalent).
Here I think there is an ethical obligation on observatories and science centers that produce data to offer guidance to users on how their staff that accrues and values citations to get them. This means that data pipelines and instruments need to have papers that can be cited, and staff astronomers that assist with observations in any way need a clear path to getting credit for the science they enable. These centers also need to communicate with their users about what these policies are and what appropriate citation and authorship practices for their employees entail.