APS News


First authorship does not determine real leader

It is curious how long the controversy over C.-S. Wu's role in that famous experiment on parity violation has persisted (APS News, December 2001 and February 2002). I recall hearing a long time ago that when the experiment was over and the paper completed, the team was to decide who would be first author. After an embarrassingly long silence somebody suggested that it should be the only lady on the team - Mme Wu. Nobody objected, and the paper appeared with her name first.

This case, important for the history of physics as it might be, revives the question of the order of authors on a joint paper. When I was doing my Ph.D. at University College London, my supervisor, Mike Seaton, told me that his rule was to put the authors in alphabetical order, except when it was the first paper of one of the authors (in order to encourage the beginner). I have been applying this rule throughout my career and it works very well.

In every joint research project there is a principal collaborator who conducts the work on the subject. Under most circumstances this rule does not do injustice to the real leader. As Cervantes' count said to his peasant guest of honor, he (the count) will chair the table wherever he may be sitting.
Petar Grujic
Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Book may redefine what's rational

In his Viewpoint in the February APS News, Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy advises that the interests of the United States lie in "rationally dealing with complaints against its international behavior." Would I be the only one who reads this as an attack on US support of Israel, in view of the steady stream of anti-Semitic propaganda from this part of the world? I invite Professor Hoodbhoy to read the book "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, to get a different slant on what he conceives to be rational.
Elmer Eisner
Houston, Texas

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