Praise to Philip Wyatt for having the courage to say what needed to be said, and praise to Physics Today for publishing it. Wyatt has hit the nail squarely on the head.

The emphasis on multiple authors is ultimately driven, as Wyatt implies, by the ongoing obsession with citation count as the marker of achievement. Never mind that prominent and less-prominent journals have openly and repeatedly recognized that citation count has little correlation to quality or relevance of work. High citation counts have even gone to papers later identified as falsified. But I think Wyatt’s ultimate point is that with so many authors, it is nearly impossible to identify who was truly the brains behind a paper. In hiring and promotion, for example, that identification is paramount. But how, given present circumstances, can such decisions be made?

Single-author papers would seem to be the sure indicator of creativity, but given today’s pressure to include other authors, the lone author becomes a pariah. Other factors have contributed to the relative rarity of single author papers. One is the increasing percentage of female scientists and engineers. In my view, women are cooperators; those willing to write as sole author are very few and far between. Another reason is the amount of time involved in writing a good single-author paper. The majority of them require a perspective acquired from deep, longer-term immersion in a subject.

Profound experimental results often emanate from multiauthor groups, but profound theory rarely does.