Part I is here. You’ll need to read it and prior entries for context.
Let me start this final(?) part with a formal statement of my suggestion:
In general, researchers writing a paper that uses unpublished or otherwise unciteable data they did not produce should invite the proposers/observers/producers of that data to be co-authors.
Now, there are many situations where following my co-authorship suggestion isn’t practical. Maybe there are not well defined “proposers”. Maybe the data are 30 years old and widely used. Maybe there is a timeliness or competitive issue that precludes letting the proposer know what you’re working on. Maybe the proposing team didn’t actually do a lot of work to make the observations happen. Maybe the proposer is a social pariah or one of your more important co-authors refuses to be on a paper with them. Maybe you’re on a deadline and simply don’t have time. Maybe you’re in a collaboration whose authorship rules preclude adding these people to the paper. Depending on the specifics of a situation, those might be part of completely legitimate reasons to go ahead and publish without them.
Ethics is often a case-by-case subject; broadly written rules can become outdated, or fail to anticipate pathological cases, or obviously fail in corner cases, or just be too vague to apply to edge cases. Personal ethics also come into play: we do not all share the same values, and do not all take the same approach to collaboration. Ethics also depend on expectations of the community, and those can change.
But I think our community’s expectation and standard that we never need to include the people who took otherwise unciteable data as co-authors is wrong and should change.
I encourage my colleagues to consider adopting a presumption that the observers/proposers of public but unpublished data should be invited as co-authors, and even taken on as collaborators early in the project. If there are good reasons not to do so, that’s fine, but those reasons should be articulated and considered and weighed against the good reasons to the contrary before a decision is made.
So before rejecting this presumption, astronomers should ask themselves:
- Why not include them?
- What does it really cost me to include them?
- Why not gain a collaborator? Why not have a longer author list?
- What would I want them to do if the roles were reversed?
In many cases, the answers to these questions might lead authors to conclude that the producers of the data should not be co-authors, and that’s fine.
But let’s ask these questions more often.
Finally, because Josh Peek got me off on this tangent on Twitter, inspired my particular example, and is working on the MAST data policy which will guide this sort of thing, let me suggest a concrete policy for MAST, consistent with my proposal and the AAS Ethics Policy:
- Propriety only concerns who can see and use data. It is silent on the issues of authorship. Public data are in the public domain and anyone may download them and use them as they see fit.
- STScI will provide guidance to users of its data products on how to properly credit STScI and its employees for their work. This is probably something like: include the boilerplate acknowledgement, and cite such and such papers describing the instrument and analysis methods.
- STScI should have an internal policy for how its many scientists accrue credit (citations and authorship) for their work on projects that produce data, especially for papers produced with public data they enabled. This policy should be consistent with community norms and (hopefully) the AAS Ethics Policy (which may need to change).
That’s it! If authors want to scoop others and not give them co-authorship, that’s not MAST’s problem (indeed, it is part of MAST’s charter to enable such scooping!). The AAS Committee on Ethics may be interested in that author list, of course, but I see no reason (or mechanism!) for MAST to be telling its users what they can do with public domain data except publish publish publish.
OK, that’s it. Flame on! I will probably update this thread with more entries as good ideas roll in.
[Edit: One more post! I linked to the old Code of Ethics. The new one actually further supports my position, I think.]