In the last few months, I have taken myself off of some collaborative papers where I felt I had not contributed much. The person from my group who actually did the work was my postdoc, but he is pretty independent and didn't really need my input to do what he did as part of these collaborations. Therefore, I think he should be a coauthor but I shouldn't, so I asked to be removed. I think one lead senior author may have been a bit upset by my request to be removed, because he only removes himself from papers that he doesn't want to be associated with (e.g. doesn't believe the science). I do that too (luckily only had to do it a couple of times in the past), but this was not the case of questionable science -- I simply do not think I contributed in a substantial enough way, so I don't want to be a coauthor just because someone puts me automatically on everything that my postdoc contributes to.
We are here to yet again discuss the evergreen issue of authorship assignment. I don't want to discuss the cases where a person is clearly one of the key personnel, without whom the paper would not have happened -- they made absolutely critical contributions to the design, execution, analysis of data, or writing up of the paper. I am talking about the middle-of-the-author-list people, who were not key players but whose contribution may (or may not) have exceeded a byline in the acknowledgement.
So I have been thinking about what my own minimum is for being comfortable with my own coauthorship. I think it is being involved in at least some (preferably most) collaborative meetings and discussions about the project (i.e I have made some intellectual contribution to the project's design or analysis), combined with a significant effort on the manuscript writing and editing. Alternatively, instead of collaborative meetings I could do a lot of work with my own group member on the theoretical side of the project, combined with a serious effort on writing and editing of the paper.
I don't know; maybe it's my overall state of being progressively more exhausted, more jaded with my job and doing science in a very fast-paced, competitive field... The idea of being an author on a paper where I haven't really pulled my weight seems to become more and more distasteful to me as I grow older. I have realized that the ballooning discomfort with the concept of courtesy authorships has little to do with the prescribed authorship assignment code (although we should all be aware, and teach our students, what ethical behavior in our field is); rather, it comes from my own internal code of ethics and even so more from my own sense of professional pride.
However, a few senior colleagues tell me that I am shooting myself in the foot by declining courtesy coauthorships (more papers --> more citations and more recognition etc.), that I need to relax and accept the courtesy authorships or, better yet, that I should in fact proactively seek them out. Gaaaah. I really really don't want to do this. It feels pathetic, like I can't do anything substantial on my own, so I have to leech onto other people's work.
What are your own coauthorship-comfort criteria? How much do you minimally do for papers on which you are a coauthor? When (if ever) do you remove yourself from the author list? When (if ever) do you insist that someone put you on the paper as an author? Have you ever fought to have someone else taken off/put on and for what reason? (I have fought to get my postdoc on the author list a couple of times.) Lastly, do you think all these courtesy authorships are really important to one's career, that not having them hurts your record in the long run?