Science and identity: Your name is everything

In scientific writing, standard convention is referring to a scientist by last name and/or initial of their first name. So let’s say you want to cite a paper I’ve written, you cite it in the text as Skarbø (year) (given that the paper has author-year referencing style, my favourite), or in the references as Skarbø, R.A. + year, name of paper, publication, etc…

As you get to know a topic, you start recognizing names and citations of authorities in that field. After a while, you many times don’t need to look in the reference list to know which paper the author is referring to, you know the article only by the citation.

Thus, as a scientist, your name is your identify and your everything. However, this can yield some problems.

What if your name is very common? Imagine searching for the author “J Smith“, or “J Wang“, which both gives 100+ hits on Google Scholar author search. In a big research field, how will you know which one is the one you want? In nanoscience alone, there are more than 1,200 “J Wang”‘s!

What if you change your name? Back in the days, most scientists were men, and women were the ones changing their names when marrying, so this was not really a big problem. But these days, scientists are both men and women, and both may change their name when marrying. What if author “H Olsen” goes to being “H Olsen-Solvang” or “H Solvang” after marrying — how will you know it’s the same person?

Fortunately, some clever people have thought of this. Just like research papers can have unique digital identifiers, known as a DOIs, researchers can have the same. An ORCID is a permanent digital identifier for researchers.  By associating it with all you publish, you avoid all the name troubles above, and more. If you want to know what it looks like, here is mine.

The people over at Impactstory has written a great summary of more of the benefits of using ORCID. You should check out the post, and of course register to get an ORCID if you’re a researcher! (It literally takes 30 seconds — easier than signing up for Facebook).

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My face when problems are solved and the weather is nice

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