What’s in a name? Nothing, according to Shakespeare, but a researcher thinks otherwise. We want credit for our work and don’t want to give credit to anyone else, or take credit for any work but our own. This is a real problem in today’s publishing environment. If you have a common name such as William Stevenson, it is likely that there is someone else out there publishing under the same name or one close enough to it to cause confusion. I’ve never lived in a city in which there were not several other William Stevensons, and if I ever become a novelist, I’ll have to use a pen name, since there is already a bestselling novelist with my name.
In scientific publishing, the situation is particularly bewildering in Asia where so many names are similar. According to Nature in 2011, there were 3,926 publications by various authors named Y. Wang, more than ten per day. Papers by Chens, Lees, Zhangs, and Lis were almost as common. So how can we be sure of who is who?
A possible solution to this confusion is the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) which was launched in October 2012. The goal is to assign to every researcher or institution a unique 16-digit identifying code that can be included in a publication, thus ending any doubt as to which Stevenson or Lee did the work. There is no charge for an individual researcher. To register, all a researcher needs to do is to log on to the ORCID website at https://orcid.org/and type in his or her name and email address. The researcher may also list publications, affiliations, and other information. This becomes a permanent identifier that can be linked to his or her scientific contributions, even data sets generated through research, and that can track all research outputs, turning the ORCID profile into a digital curriculum vitae.
Institutions and publishing houses are charged a fee for their membership in ORCID, which can be pretty hefty—$25,000 for the largest institutions. Their members include prestigious publishers—Elsevier, Springer, Nature, and Wiley—and universities such as Cornell and Caltech. Funding organizations are requesting ORCID for grant submission, and professional associations too are incorporating them into membership renewal. As of August 15, 2014, the number of registrants was 838,549. Watching from the stands are big names such as the American Chemical Society, perhaps waiting to see if ORCID turns out to be another Facebook or MySpace.