Physicists do it by the hundred; scientists do it in groups; fiction writers mostly alone. And researchers? Rarely now do they write papers alone, and the number of authors on papers is ever increasing. However, the puzzling question here is who is the first author ?
The operative word here is "boss". It's his/her final decision. People get "cheated" out of first authorship all the time.
I agree to some extent when others that say it should be your boss's decision, although I think it is pretty lousy and unfortunately, we don't have any guidelines to go by. The lab politics and professional courtesy should not affect rewarding hard or tedious work which essentially should be looked at in the authorship decision. I don't think it's fine as long as your boss/PI spells out the exact contributions of each author in his/her letter of recommendation when it comes time for you to apply for jobs. Since according to me that seems like a small consolation although atleast it ensures you get appropriate credit with the people who matter most (especially potential future employers).
In most cases first authorship should be given to the person who did the most work, with the various types of work weighted by their values. Some work is more valuable than other. Generally, designing the research and writing the manuscript are considered more valuable than doing the statistical analysis, which is considered more valuable than collecting the data.
In this era of team-driven science I think the whole importance to the concept of first author is absurd. In fact, some journals require a final statement about the contribution of each author. I guess the tentative fix is that each author's contributions should be listed or acknowledged upon submission in every journal.
Whether or not scientific societies develop authorship policies of their own, they should undertake vigorous educational efforts to keep their new members adequately informed about the importance of authorship practices in ethical scientific research and publication. Since, it's all about research integrity.
References to articles on this topic
- APA Monitor Article, "The Authorship Dilemma," Dec., 1998
- Fine and Kurdek, American Psychologist, 48:1141-1147
- Costa and Gatz, Psychological Science, 3:354-357.
- Louw and Fouché, South African Journal of Psychology, 29:145-148.