Scientist IDs may springboard innovation

Is your last name Jones, Brown or Williams? If it is, you have lots of company. Common names can lend to confusion – especially on a global scale.

By Transparent 6lue via Wikimedia Commons
By Transparent 6lue via Wikimedia Commons

In China, “1.1 billion people share 129 surnames,” said Rebecca Bryant, director of community at ORCID. (Hint: The most popular are Wang, Li and Zhang)

ORCID is a non-profit organization that began in 2012. The mission is to provide personal identification numbers to researchers across the globe to avoid confusing the doctor researching stem cells with a physicist engineering solar cells. It’s no different, really than having a social security or driver’s license number as an ID.

“The research community has lacked the ability to link researchers and scholars with their research,” Bryant explained. “Relying on names is completely inadequate.” 

ORCID stands for Open Researcher and Contributor ID.

ORCID has a few tips that can avoid name confusion for researchers and everyone else.  Adding to the confusion are the inclusion or omission of a middle letter, frequency with which a name occurs, name changes due to marriage or divorce and even constant misspelling if a name is unique.

It is important to “have a way to link authors and researchers to their work, said Todd Carpenter of the National Information Standards Organization. Not only does it help give credit where credit is due, it helps measure the scholarly quality of an author’s research.

 In the past, Carpenter explained, the way the success of a scientist’s research was measured was through something called the “impact factor.” This system of measurement would look at how often an author’s work was cited in subsequent scientific articles.

 There are many drawbacks to this system of measurement in addition to name confusion . One major drawback is the fact that it would take anywhere from three to five years to accurately determine the impact factor of research.

The primary researcher must first conduct research and post findings. They must then wait for a second scientist to perform their own experiment or another that cites the primary researcher in new published work.

Carpenter and others are now looking at ways to use digital exchange of content to evaluate impact sooner.  The number identification system provided by ORCID seems to be a promising tool for the future.  And for a world looking for innovations, that could mean finding the next best solutions much sooner.  

Standardizing the way authors present their work and the way in which impact factor is measured on a global level is the goal.

“Standards are like toothbrushes,” Carpenter said. “We all have one, but you never want to use anyone else’s.”