Breaking the myths of scholarly credit

Catriona MacCallum on why it takes 30 seconds to transform science.

Twitter: @catmacOA
ORCID: 0000-0001-9623-2225

Information on the Feb 2016 Australian Outreach Meeting, and the official launch in Canberra of the Australian ORCID consortium  is here

orcid_128x128Imagine a world where researchers can reliably keep track of – and receive credit for – the myriad ways in which they contribute to science – not just articles, books, data and software but peer-review reports, preprints, grants, blog posts, video and sound recordings, and not just complete stories but individual experiments, images, methods and analyses.

A diverse group of publishers and journals, including PLOS, eLife, the Royal Society, AGU, EMBO, Hindawi, IEEE and the Science Journals, have banded together to help make this a reality by supporting the adoption of ORCID iDs, a persistent digital identifier for researchers, in their publication workflows in 2016. In an Open Letter, they outline their intention to require iDs from corresponding authors of accepted articles that will ensure researchers get credit for their work while reducing the reporting burden on them. The specific date of requirement in 2016 will vary and be added to the letter subsequently.

As Natasha Simons pointed out in a previous post on this blog, ORCID iDs are already integrated in the workflows of many publishers and other scholarly platforms. Indeed, there are currently more than 200 research platforms and workflow systems that collect and connect iDs from researchers. And almost 2 million researchers have registered for an iD, not least because it helps to distinguish their contributions from those of all the other Smiths, Jones or Zhangs in their field. Funders are also signalling their interest. The Wellcome Trust requires their grantees to use ORCID iDs in grant applications and others, such as the NHMRC and ARC in Australia, look poised to follow suit.

If ORCID iDs are being embraced so widely, why is this new commitment by publishers needed?

The rationale is to speed up the adoption and use of ORCID iDs within scholarly systems. This will benefit researchers, publishers and funders who want to ensure that appropriate credit is given for an output, and also help readers or future collaborators discover the work of particular researcher more easily.

Persistent identifiers are increasingly common. Most researchers are familiar with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), which are a unique alphanumeric string attached to a digital object, most commonly an article, book or dataset. They persist because they contain stable information (metadata) about the object even if the URL to the website where the object is hosted changes or the object is hosted on multiple websites.

DOIs work because they have been adopted by 1000s of publishers and libraries as the de facto standard for identifying and locating scholarly digital objects. They are an accepted and essential part of the scholarly infrastructure – a key machine-readable connector in the global digital network, with registration organisations such as Crossref and DataCite acting as a junction box.

In many respects, an ORCID iD provides the equivalent of a DOI for researchers – enabling articles and datasets and a host of other outputs to be linked unambiguously to specific individuals – while ORCID the organisation is the junction box. To register for an iD takes about 30 seconds and is free, and it’s up to the researcher to choose which data and fields are made public in the ORCID record associated with their iD (e.g. see Jonathan Eisen’s public record as well as the privacy policy on ORCID).

In the open letter, the guidelines for publishers includes a requirement that the metadata they already send to Crossref with DOIs also include the ORCID iDs for authors. This will help reduce the reporting burden for researchers (e.g., to funders or institutions) because Crossref’s new auto-update function means that researchers can choose to have their ORCID record automatically updated with any new article, book, dataset (or other object) that already has a Crossref DOI.

An oft repeated sentiment is that the value of open access is to enable others to discover and build on work that already exists. But making something freely available on the web is just a first and somewhat limited step. Persistent identifiers, such as DOIs and ORCID iDs, are crucial to building the infrastructure for Open Science and enable discovery not just of the work itself but also of the researchers who made that contribution possible.

Moreover, if we are to reform the evaluation and credit system, then we need to be able to reliably link scientists (in the broadest sense) to all their contributions. Making these traceable and transparent will help dispel the myths that the only valid contribution to science comes in the form of a published article or book and the only measure of quality is publication in a high impact journal or established monograph press.

ORCID iDs provide the digital glue to facilitate this. The hope is that the publisher’s Open Letter and joint commitment will accelerate the incorporation of ORDID iDs in every scholarly system.  There are many different ways that funders, research organisations and content providers can support ORCID (available on their website). If you are a publisher, make the commitment and sign the open letter. If you are a researcher take 30 seconds to help transform research – register for an ORCID iD and use it wherever you use your name.


See also the post about the initiative by Laurel Haak, Executive Director of ORCID.

Competing interests: Catriona MacCallum is a paid employee of PLOS, one of the organisers and original signatories of the Open Letter supporting ORCID. PLOS is also an unfunded partner in the EU THOR project, whose aim is to establish seamless integration between articles, data, and researchers across the research lifecycle.

 About the author: Catriona is currently the Acting Advocacy Director for PLOS