Saturday, July 28, 2012

ORCID: Working towards a global researcher ID

I didn't change my family name when I got married six years ago; it would have been a complication on my publication list that I didn't want to spend brain time on. Stefan's family name, Scherer, is much more common than mine is. Indeed there is another physicist with name Stefan Scherer, and to make matters worse the other Stefan Scherer actually works on quite similar topics than our Stefan Scherer did before he left academia. A case for middle names then. Still, the occasional mixup has happened.

Thus, while I'm the only Hossenfelder on the arxiv and my Google scholar profile basically assembles itself, I'm sympathetic to the problem of author identification. The arXiv helpfully offers an author ID. I don't know how many people actually use it and anyway, it's of limited use as long as publishers don't use it.

So here's an interesting initiative then: ORCID - the Open Researcher and Contributor ID. The aim of this initiative is to create a global and interdisciplinary registry for authors. It's run by a non-profit organization with a board of directors that seems to bring together several key institutions, and looks quite trustworthy to me. On their website one finds:

"The central goal of the Open Researcher and Contributor ID non-profit organization (ORCID) is to solve the long-standing name ambiguity problem in scholarly communication. Accurate attribution is a fundamental pillar of the scholarly record. Global identification infrastructure exists for content but not for the producers of that content, creating challenges in establishing the identity of authors and other contributors and reliably linking them to their published works.

The core mission of ORCID is to rectify this by creating a central registry of unique identifiers for individual researchers and an open and transparent linking mechanism between ORCID and other current author identifier schemes. This registry will be a centralized identity system for collecting and managing information describing i) contributors themselves and ii) relationships between contributors and their scholarly publications as well as various other types of academic output."
I didn't find much on the website in terms of procedure, so I don't know how they are assembling their database. I guess that as an author you don't actually have to do much yourself. Though at some point you might be sent a notification asking you to have a look at your data and check if it's accurate, at least that would be my guess. There's some information on that website how academic institutions can support this initiative, which vaguely mentions some fee but no details on that. Either way, it looks to me like this global author ID is well under way and has the potential to simplify many researcher's and publishers' lives.


  1. I also didn't change my last name when I got married---I kept the one I had before, which was the last name of my first wife.

    Max Tegmark used to be Max Shapiro (his father is originally from the USA). His family was the only Shapiro in Sweden, but Shapiro is a common name among astronomers, so he adopted his mother's maiden name Tegmark, which is quite rare even in Sweden (maybe her family is the only Tegmark family in the world).

    The obvious solution, of course, would be to use something like the Swedish personnummer, which is a unique identifier and used for all sorts of things. However, this doesn't exist in many countries (and in many countries there would be fierce opposition to such a system).

  2. Hi Phillip,

    Interesting, I hadn't known this. Shapiro sounds much cooler though. Well, I guess you can't have it all ;o)

    Yes, the obvious solution is to just assign a number or other ID to everybody. We'll get there sooner or later, but I guess it will take about a century at least.

    The Swedish person number would be not so unique would you use it globally. It consists of your birth day followed by a 4 digit code. Works for Sweden, probably wouldn't even work for the USA, not to mention the whole planet.



  3. Personally, I think Tegmark sounds cooler than Shapiro. Max does almost have it all, though: he wrote a paper with his father (a mathematician), who has an Erdös number of 1, giving him an Erdös number of 2. Since Max is mathematically inclined, it might not be so far-fetched for him to have written a paper with his father, but I suspect that reducing his Erdös number played some role in the decision. :-)

    There are several astronomers named Shapiro, some quite famous, so it's probably better to have a different name if one wants to make one's mark.

    Even I have a Swedish personnummer, even though I have never lived in Sweden. (I once got some money from the University of Uppsala, so I got a number.) It is essentially the birth date, a serial number and a checksum. So, of course, if it were to be used worldwide then the serial number would have to be longer.


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