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Developing a fair and accurate picture of academic contributions

Part 1: Understanding author identity

Written by Lindsay Morton

In the sciences, credit counts. As a research scientist, your personal record directly determines your future opportunities in a measured, almost algorithmic way. It’s an elaborate but often ineffective system in which author order and journal impact factor, number of publications and total volume of grant dollars obtained, scholarly association and editorial board memberships each have a coded meaning that can vary by discipline. Though publication record is considered most important, each of these factors contribute to an overall persona; an academic reputation in which job, grant and tenure applications are all based. Within this system, acknowledging a contribution isn’t a simple courtesy: it can help make a career.

How can we allocate credit fairly and accurately?

The challenges inherent in our current systems for assigning credit in scholarly communications fall into three major categories: identifying individual contributors, identifying their specific contributions, and recognizing contributions other than authorship. Open Science tools and practices offer thoughtful and evolving solutions for each of these credit challenges and recognize researchers for all of their scholarly outputs. In this three-post series, we’ll discuss PLOS’ ongoing efforts to enhance trust in published research and improve inclusivity in both the publication and peer review processes, with options designed to allocate academic credit with greater precision and fairness.

What’s in a name: Identifying individual authors

Standard cataloging and meta-tagging procedures were developed for a different era of publishing. Today, there are far more scientific authors than ever before, and they publish with increasing frequency. Authors who share the same name are common—a problem exacerbated by the tradition of publishing under initials and a family name, rather than a full name. 

In the past (and even today, outside the sciences), other identifying characteristics like institution, country, or discipline might be used to distinguish authors who share the same name. But modern scientific researchers are a mobile population. Institutional affiliation, contact details and country may change several times over the course of a career. Research focus may shift or evolve over time. Names, too, may be subject to change, for example in cases of marriage, divorce, or gender transition. 

For these reasons, it is not uncommon for multiple researchers’ digital publication records to be senselessly and inaccurately conflated, or for sections of a publication history to be treated separately after a name change, shift in research focus, or physical move. Those mistakes can cause confusion for institutions and publishers, and increase the administrative burden for researchers.

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Have you personally experienced any of these issues when attempting to document and showcase your own work? (mark all that apply)
Something else? Share in the comments
Something else? Share in the comments

Solution: Clarifying the record and reducing the administrative burden with ORCID

ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor IDentifier) iD is a unique identifier used to distinguish researchers from one another, and to track professional contributions as both author and reviewer—even when name, institution, or country change. Your ORCID is unique to you, no matter how your career evolves. And because it’s widely adopted by publishers, peer review management systems, funders, institutions, and indexing services, tracking and demonstrating your contributions is easy. The system can both push data to partners in order to validate users’ identity, and retrieve data to create a personal profile for each individual. It also functions as a single sign-on tool, enabling researchers to login to all their publishing-related accounts with just one username and password.

Today, there are more than 7.3 million yearly active records, with 5.4 million users taking advantage of automatic profile updates through integrated member organizations like PLOS. PLOS became a member of ORCID shortly after its founding, and we have continued to embrace new functionality as it becomes available. We believe that ORCID is a valuable tool for authors and reviewers to claim credit for their contributions, as well as a time-saving resource for updating and maintaining a CV.

ORCID logo Don’t have an ORCID yet? Sign up today!

Coming up

In the next post in this series, we’ll return to the subject of contributorship to explore how scientific labor is recognized, and how credit is allocated among the different authors on a research article.

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