Sunday, April 27, 2014

Order of Authors: The Problem with Vague Norms.

 Having written a few papers on legal uncertainty, I want to raise some concerns regarding the apparent vagueness of the order of authors’ norm in legal scholarship. With various modifications related to student vs. instructor and the like, there are two main approaches to order of authors, alphabetical norm and contribution based norm. Economics is a classic example of alphabetical order, while psychology in an example of contribution based order. Each of these approaches have a history and one can easily think of the advantages of each norm. One might argue that given the fact that both norms are well-known, there is no importance to the norm you choose to apply and people will simply adjust their views of each author based on the chosen norm. However, a paper I thought is an urban legend, but actually exists (L Einav, L Yariv - The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006) suggests that even within economics, where the norm is alphabetical and relatively clear, there is a significant effect to one’s surname both on their collaboration practices and on their academic success measured by tenure, fellowships etc. Some even account for the various psychological effects of names on preference (e.g. Nelson and Simons, 2007), these effect are very surprising and to some extent disturbing. The difficulty raised by the findings above is exacerbated when one deals with disciplines that don’t have a clear norm, where people might mistakenly attribute a relative contribution rule to a case, where the authors were under the impression that their order is alphabetical. In my understanding the norm in law used to be strictly alphabetical, but is increasingly changing, and therefore examples of the use of contribution based norm in law can also be seen. It seems that the law, as an evolving field where collaborations are on the rise, should create some more explicit norm of either, having one agreed upon order strictly followed, or at the least having some mandatory comment of what was the chosen norm. With all the advantages of uncertainty in law (e.g. Feldman and Smith, 2014 --order was alphabetic) the order of authors is not the right case to implement such principle.

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