Certified Random: A New Order for Co-Authorship

Debraj Ray, Arthur Robson

NBER Working Paper No. 22602
Issued in September 2016, Revised in December 2016
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Health Care, Industrial Organization, Labor Studies, Monetary Economics, Public Economics, Political Economy, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

In economics, alphabetical name order is the baseline norm for joint publications. A growing literature suggests, however, that alphabetical order confers uneven benefits on the first author. This paper introduces and studies certified random order, which involves randomization of names that is institutionally ratified by a commonly understood symbol. Certified random order maintains all the ethical niceties of alphabetical order, but in addition: (a) it distributes the psychological and perceptual weight given to first authorship evenly over the alphabet, (b) it allows either author to signal credit when contributions are extremely unequal, (c) it will be willingly adopted in a decentralized manner even in an environment where alphabetical order is dominant, (d) it is robust to deviations, (e) it dominates alphabetical order on the grounds of ex-ante efficiency, and (f) barring the addition of a simple symbol, it is no more complex than the old system, and brings perfect symmetry to joint authorship.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22602

Published: Debraj Ray & Arthur Robson, 2018. "Certified Random: A New Order for Coauthorship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(2), pages 489-520, February. citation courtesy of

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