Hyperauthorship: global projects spark surge in thousand-author papers

View from above scientists meeting in laboratory.

The number of published papers with more than 1,000 authors has risen.Credit: Alamy

The number of research papers with more than 1,000 authors has more than doubled in the past 5 years, a study of millions of articles indexed by the Web of Science (WoS) database has found.

Between 2009 and 2013, 573 manuscripts listing 1,000 co-authors or more were published, according to a report released on 4 December by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), which is part of Clarivate Analytics, the firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that runs the WoS. But that figure has risen to 1,315 papers over the past 5 years.

The surge in this practice, dubbed hyperauthorship, reflects the increasingly global nature of research across several fields, the institute says.

Source: Institute for Scientific Information at the Web of Science Group.

In particle and nuclear physics, papers with hundreds or even thousands of authors have been common for some time, largely because of massive collaborative research projects at CERN, Europe’s particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. “What a lot of people think about when they hear about hyperauthorship is CERN,” says Martin Szomszor, head of research analytics at the ISI. But he says that data from the past five years show an increasing number of thousand-author studies in other fields, including global epidemiology and climate change. A 2017 analysis of body-mass index published in The Lancet1, for example, involved more than 1,000 named authors from more than 100 countries. “It’s the type of research where global data is required,” says Szomszor.

The ISI study found that papers involving authors in dozens of countries — although rare — are also being published more often. Between 2009 to 2013, just one manuscript authored by researchers from more than 60 countries was listed in the WoS. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 49 such papers — and nearly two-thirds of these had authors from more than 80 nations.

Szomszor thinks the trend towards mass authorship will probably continue over the next five years, as more fields start to involve large numbers of researchers in different parts of the world working together. He predicts that topics associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — such as poverty and sustainability — are likely to produce more mass-authored papers in future.

The report’s findings are a positive sign, indicating growing global collaboration among researchers, says Vincent Larivière, an information scientist at the University of Montreal in Canada. “I’m not surprised about the increase in fields other than particle physics,” he says. “The important thing for me is that the contribution of researchers, irrespective of their rank in the academic hierarchy, is recognized and credited.”

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