Thursday, September 09, 2004

Which Affiliation?

Dieter van Melkebeek and I had a mild disagreement over an issue in writing a paper and he suggested I discuss it on my weblog. So here goes.

We're working on a journal version of a paper where we did the research back when we were both in New Jersey (Dieter is now on the Wisconsin faculty). Dieter listed our current institutions on the paper. I think that we should list our institutional affiliation when we performed the research, or more precisely the place paying the salary at that time. I don't feel that strongly about the issue so I am letting Dieter have his way, especially since he did the vast majority of the writing. I did ask that we have footnotes explaining our affiliations at the time of the research. (As a side note, footnotes should also contain other support information such as grants, where one was physically located when the research was done if different and contact information, though these days one needs only know how to spell my name correctly when using Google).

So I'll open this up to my readers. Which affiliation should one use? Or are we just arguing over an issue that nobody really cares about?


  1. I tend to list the institutions where the research was done, plus my home institution. This is because in Australian Universities the institutional byline on a paper affects how and to whom money flows. Under this system it seems fairest to credit the place where the paper was written, which provided the research environment, plus the place paying my salary.

    I don't know how the US system works, but I would imagine that you could make a case along similar lines on the grounds that various citation services (like the ISI Web of Science, in physics) are sometimes used to rank institutions by the impact of their research, and this can again have follow-on effects on funding, etc.

    Michael Nielsen

  2. I would list the most current affiliation and then provide a footnote explaining that most of the work was done at the other affiliation. (And, in fact, this is what I have done.)

  3. I think that the affiliation line servers three distinct purposes:

    1) It gives credit to a source of financial support.
    2) It provides a hint as to how to locate (and communicate with) the author.
    3) It gives an inexact but nevertheless useful means of assessing the quality of the work, or, alternatively but almost equivalently, it gives us a way to identify the scholarly community in which we participate.

    Each of these deserves some additional discussion. W.r.t. (1), it is traditional to list funding sources (e.g., the NSF) in footnotes, whether the research took place during the academic year (when grant expenditures may have been nil) or during the summer (when the grant may have been providing all funding). For that matter, folks who are on 9 month appointments and don't enjoy grant funding universally list their home institution, even if the work was all done during the unfunded quarter.

    As for a means to locate the author, this was a *lot* more important in the pre-Google era. These days, authors generally list email addresses, which serves this role better than a simple institutional by-line.

    So I come down, somewhat paradoxically, with (3) as the principal justification. Scholars almost without exception belong to scholarly communities, and usually identify strongly with them. Our affiliation is our team. Good teams tend to have good players, and good players tend to play on good teams. - Stuart Kurtz

  4. I tend to list my current institution as the
    affiliation and add a footnote explaining where
    most of the work was done. This seems to be the
    common thing in TCS. I tend to see affiliation as
    indicating where the author is at currently - it
    can be confusing to list a past institution.


  5. I would go with Chandra, and the opposite of Jeff. List the current place as the affiliation, and footnote the fact that the work was done in a prior institution. After all, the article will be published now...

  6. I think Kurtz's comment is quite a dangerous one, and I hope few people agree with it. The idea that an author affiliation should be used to judge the quality of a paper is a terrible one, but unfortunately seems to be common. I myself have been guily of this: in fact, I just got a paper to review and was predisposed to think poorly of it because of the affiliation of the authors. But this was my own mistake because the paper turned out to be quite good.

  7. I once worked with two authors in different institutions and
    visited each for a few months. We had the same debate about what my affiliation should be. As we wrote two papers, I used one institution in each and listed the other in the acknowledgement.
    While not all publication venues require the author's address,
    an email address is usually provided. I would affiliate myself with the institution
    where the work was done but use my current email address. The
    instution gets credit and the author can infer that I have
    either moved or am using a permanent id. Either way, I can be


  8. I'm with Chandra but from a slightly different perspective.

    I am a professional developer and when I am looking at research that applies to what I am doing I want to know both the current institution and where the work was done.

    The current institution because I need to know how to get ahold of the author.

    The place where it was done in case their are copywrite issues that have to be taken care of before any implementation is done.


  9. I agree with Chandra: use your current affiliation, and footnote saying "part/most of the work was done while at...". After all, you are doing a little work now, too, no? In any case, that's what I always do, and I assumed this was the standard thing in our community, so never thought twice about it. I've never noticed a paper using an old affiliation.