Early in his career, Russ Altman and members of his lab at Stanford University devised a new data analysis strategy. They drafted the manuscript about their approach and, before sending it to a computer science journal, showed it to the biologists whose raw data they had used. These colleagues expressed great distress at seeing their results in the methods paper, and insisted the team delay submitting the manuscript until they prepared a paper detailing the biological conclusions.

Altman agreed to temporarily shelve the manuscript. He also made a mental note to himself: Start the discussion about manuscripts and authorships at the beginning of the project. "It's one thing to have a hard conversation before any of the results are in," he relates. "But it's another to start talking when the results are already in, and you realize that you never really talked about distributing the credit in the publications." Altman,...

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