Contributors to the Tree of Life: Authors
The duty of an author is to write a Tree of Life page. Pages that are works in progress can be added to the ToL with an "under construction" status. In order for a ToL page to be considered "complete", it is usually reviewed by a coordinator (who will serve as an associate editor) and by a ToL editor.
An author of a page will generally participate in the coordination of the pages for the subgroups on that page. See the Coordinators page.
For those of you who will be contributing to the Tree of Life, or wish to contribute, please be sure to register!
Expectations of an author
An author or collection of authors should have:
- Thorough knowledge of phylogeny of the group, including knowledge of morphological and molecular evidence.
- An open-minded, non-dogmatic view about the phylogeny of the group, willing to present alternative hypotheses. This is critical; the Tree of Life project is not a soapbox for promoting one's ideas.
- Enthusiasm for the project, and time to work on it.
We encourage collaborative efforts. If a single author does not meet these requirements, several authors who collectively do should be selected. Familiarity with computers is a bonus, as is access to illustrations of the organisms.
Issues to consider in choosing authors
Deciding who should be included as authors on a page is not always easy. Below are some of the considerations that coordinators should use in selecting authors, and that lead authors should use in selecting coauthors. As always, these issues are most important on trunk pages of the Tree.
The detailed discussions on this page suggest that author choice is a messy business, fraught with difficulties. In practice, it seems not to be so complex. Most communities, after a little thought, seem to be having a reasonably easy time sorting out who will contribute.
(The current format for choosing authors and their contributions is likely somewhat temporary and will evolve as the Tree develops. There will surely be some changes when peer-review is implemented. )
- The Tree is a community
Some authors have a tendency to want to do a group all by themselves, even though more appropriate authors are available for subgroups. Authors of a page should not author descendent pages unless they are the most appropriate, willing people to do so; control of descendent pages should be passed to people with more expertise.
However, it will often be the case that people would like to put up preliminary versions of a page, even if they will likely not be the author on the final version. Many of the pages we have added to the Tree are preliminary versions for which we will not be an author. People who put up such preliminary pages should in general not put their names as authors of those pages, as that may discourage more appropriate authors from joining the project.
There will be some circumstances in which the expert on a subgroup would yield a poorer product for that subgroup's page; this can happen, for example, if the expert is dogmatic and not willing to be a good ToL citizen, perhaps themselves being territorial about their descendent pages. Possible solutions to this are to encourage the expert to have a coauthor with different views, or to find someone else to author the page. Choosing yourself as lead author on the page should be done only after more appropriate experts are eliminated as possibilities.
Most importantly, the best authors should be chosen for each page.
- Consider choosing a small
group of authors with complementary skills
If, as is likely for larger or well-studied groups, no single person has a broad enough knowledge of the group, consider choosing 2-4 authors. These authors should compliment each other, either in knowledge or viewpoint. For example, if the page has many extinct terminal taxa, with several living terminal taxa, an ideal team might be a paleontologist, a molecular systematist, and someone familiar with structure, behavior, or ecology of living members of the group. If the group is predominantly extinct, the lead author should be the paleontologist; if it is predominantly living, with little molecular work done on it, the lead author might be a morphological, neontological systematist; if extensive molecular work has been done, the lead author might be the molecular systematist; if there is extensive morphological information, both of fossil and of extant organisms, as well as extensive molecular work, the choice of lead author will depend upon the natures of the people involved. If there are two competing hypotheses about the relationships of the group, consider asking two people who hold opposite views to see if they can write the page together. Consider choosing a young post-doc and an older established worker; the post-doc might bring more enthusiasm, greater computer skills, and perhaps a different viewpoint, to the enterprise, whereas the established worker may bring greater knowledge of the whole organisms.
Consider inviting a non-systematist as an author, to enrich the sections of the page beyond the phylogeny. This is especially true for accessory pages.
- At least one of the authors
should have first-hand knowledge of the organisms
These days, with the rise of molecular systematics, there are phylogenetic studies done by people who have little background in the structure, behavior, or natural history of whole organisms. In fact, some studies are done by people whose only contact with the whole organism is for a few seconds just before it gets ground for DNA extraction. If such molecular investigations are the absolute best phylogenetic study available for the group, one of their authors would be ideal for authoring the Tree of Life page, but they should not be the only people authoring the page. Ideally, at least one of the authors on a ToL page should be someone with first-hand knowledge of the whole organism, whether it is in structure, behavior, natural history, or whatever. This is important so that the other portions of the page, beyond the phylogeny (Introduction, Characteristics, etc.), are the best they can be.
- At least one of the authors
should have conducted relevant phylogenetic studies
At least one of the authors on a page should have published (or will publish) a study of the relationships of the terminal taxa shown on the page. For smaller, less frequently traveled branches, this is not as critical, and in fact may be impossible: there may never have been a published phylogenetic study of the group, or the author of that study may be unavailable. But for trunk pages, this is an important criterion in choosing authors.
- Pick the best people to
be authors, whatever their computer skills or
A number of contributors have declined to have as coauthors experts in the group who do not have computer skills, or who are not well-connected electronically. Scientific content is primary in the ToL, not technology. Someone choosing authors for a multi-authored book on a group would likely not avoid the world's expert on a subgroup because that person used a different word-processor, or didn't have e-mail, or didn't have a FAX number. Having a coauthor or an author of a page be computer-literate and well-connected surely makes working on the ToL easier, but lack of these things should not preclude contributions.
- Choose authors with caution
It is usually easier to add an author onto a page later on than to take one off. If someone contacts a coordinator and offers to author a page, the offer should be considered carefully. The coordinator must decide whether this person is really the most appropriate person to author the page. If not, then either the offer should be declined, or the coordinator should inquire if people with more expertise might accept the person as a coauthor. (The fact that the person was enthusiastic enough about the project to offer to contribute should be considered an advantage of having the person participate.)
It may be that the best course of action is to decline the offer of a potential contributor. This can be a difficult thing to do (saying no to someone often is), but coordinators and authors must be willing to do so in order to keep the quality of the ToL as a prime consideration.
- Don't choose too many authors
The group of authors for one page should not be too large, if this threatens to yield "committee grid lock", with nothing getting done.
- Avoid choosing authors
for a page unless you are coordinator for that
The coordinator of a larger clade (say an order) may receive an offer from someone who wishes to author a very small piece of it (say a genus). Ideally, it will be the coordinator of the generic pages who chooses its author, not the coordinator of the order. But it may be that coordinators for intervening levels have not yet been chosen. Unless the person who offered is the single, unquestionable person to author the genus page, decisions about that person's contribution should await choice of the coordinator for the group, if this coordinator can be chosen in good time.
There are circumstances in which this rule will necessarily be violated. Some parts of the Tree grow from the root up (with coordinators choosing authors as described), but other parts grow from the tips down. It may be that the coordinator of a large clade will be unable to find the author for a major subgroup, but there are several good people with expertise in the descendants of that subgroup. These authors may be easier to find, and it may be that as the project progresses, one of these authors will emerge as the clear choice for authoring the page for the group as a whole. That person can then take over the basal page, and take over coordination of the subgroups.
- Only people who contribute
to the scientific content of papers should be
included as authors
Some contributors have included as authors computer-savy assistants who have helped produce the Tree of Life pages, but who have not contributed to the scientific content. We would like to emphasize that decisions regarding authors should be made with the same considerations used for any scientific paper. Authors should be people who have contributed to the scientific content of the page. In science we do not generally confer authorship on the staff at publishing houses who formatted the page, or secretaries who typed the paper (back in the days when secretaries were available to do this!), or scientific illustrators who provided some graphics (although in some cases there is enough scientific content added to the illustration by an illustrator that they are rightly included as an author). E.O. Wilson does not include Kathy Horton as a coauthor on every one of his books, even though she has typed virtually every word he has written, double-checked references, and so on. While Kathy deserves all the praise in the world for her efforts, authorship is not the mechanism used to credit such contributions.
There are some assistants (many of them graduate students) who do contribute substantially to the scientific content of a page, and they should be included as authors on the ToL just as they would for a publication on paper. People who have helped out solely with technical things (e.g., image creation, data entry) can be acknowledged in the "About this page" section of a ToL page. Note also that these considerations may lead coordinators to remove their name from some pages, if they have helped authors of descendent pages put together their pages, but have not contributed to the substance of the page.