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An ID card for researchers

Brazilian institutions begin to adopt the ORCID identifier code, a global digital signature for scientific and other academic authors

ORCID_238Within the next few months, the 3,500 professors at São Paulo State University (Unesp) will be invited to register with the ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) and receive an identification number that will serve as their digital signature within the worldwide scientific environment, eliminating confusion among people who share the same name.  When they submit an article to a scientific journal, for example, they will simply need to provide their personal 16-digit sequence, like the number on a credit card, so that their information, such as name, standardized signature, and affiliation are entered in the fields on the form.

This is one of the most obvious uses of the registration code, but there are broader applications.  Users may, if desired, construct a profile listing their academic production, thus building a sort of certified academic résumé.  Their new papers will be automatically retrievable since the unique identification number is connected to databases of scientific journals and repositories maintained by institutions affiliated with the system.  Prior scientific production can also be captured.  A user may exchange data between academic and professional profiles, such as the ResearcherID created by Thomson Reuters, the Scopus and Mendeley systems from publisher Elsevier, or LinkedIn.  This way a résumé with certified information can be made accessible by editors and reviewers of scientific journals, funding agencies, and evaluation programs.

Authors pay no fee to register, but institutions will pay an annual fee to join the platform, which covers systems integration and support.  The intention of Unesp is to refine the identification of its affiliates in its institutional repository, which holds data on 92,000 items of scientific production by the university’s professors and researchers.  Building the repository started from zero a little more than two years ago and sought to meet a FAPESP need to collect, preserve, and give open access to scientific production by researchers from the three São Paulo state universities.

That effort, says Flavia Maria Bastos, coordinator of the Unesp libraries and institutional repository program, required painstaking treatment of the data on professors available in scientific journal databases and in the Lattes CV Platform in order to identify the production by each one of them, despite their not having used a standardized signature for all their articles—it is common to find different abbreviations of signatures, especially when an author has several surnames.  “Now when a Unesp professor publishes a scientific article, our system will be able to retrieve the data about that paper immediately and link it to the professor’s scientific production,” Bastos says.  “This means we will have quality data on the production by each researcher in every department of Unesp and the university as a whole.  Even today, despite the efforts to create the repository, some of our production is hidden because of ambiguities in the names of the researchers and of Unesp itself.  Our acronym is sometimes confused with that of USP (University of São Paulo) and even of Paulista University, which is Unip.”

The collection task
Unesp is the first Brazilian institution to join ORCID, but it will probably soon have company.  The University of São Paulo (USP) also plans to join, in 2016.  USP, whose repository established in 1985 contains more than 700,000 records, in addition to hard copies, of the intellectual production by its researchers, plans to use the universal registry to automate the retrieval of scientific production, thus facilitating the task of collection.  Currently, the Integrated Library System of the University of São Paulo (SIBi) records the name of each of the researchers in scientific publication databases in order to receive alerts when their scientific articles are published.  The next step is to download copies of the documents and preserve them in the repository.  “We want to use ORCID to facilitate tracking and bring the metadata from the various sources that can be interconnected via a unique identification number, like ResearcherID.  That tool will enable the university to monitor its intellectual productivity using the indicators,” says Maria Fazanelli Crestana, coordinator of the USP Integrated Library System.

ORCID is a non-profit organization that combines records from 1.78 million researchers, mainly in the United States and Europe.  About 28,000 Brazilian researchers have already registered.  In May 2015, the organization set up an office in São Paulo in order to expand its presence in Latin America.  In addition to the recent agreement with Unesp, ORCID has now obtained affiliations from the virtual library known as Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal (The Scientific Information System Redalyc) based in Mexico, and the National Science, Technology, and Technological Innovation Council, a Peruvian government scientific planning agency that wants to integrate the résumés of Peruvian researchers with ORCID.  “We are in talks with Brazilian officials about the possibility of integrating into ORCID the data from the Lattes Platform, which has more than 4 million résumés from Brazilian researchers and students,” says Lilian Pessoa, a historian educated at USP who has become ORCID’s representative for Latin America.

The platform was developed in the United States in 2011 with the goal of circumventing a problem for universities, publishers of scientific publications, and libraries: the difficulty in distinguishing among authors who have very common surnames and identifying their academic production.  The growing weight of China in international science circles has made it even more challenging to identify the production by people who bear the same names.  The fact is that 85% of Chinese share a set of just over 100 surnames.  “ORCID solves the problem of the ambiguity, since no two researchers have the same identification number,” Pessoa says.  “If a researcher changes her surname when she gets married, her ORCID code will stay the same and there will be no problem identifying her production,” explains Antonio Álvaro Ranha Neves, a professor at the Federal University of the ABC and an enthusiastic user of the new platform who registered in 2013 and became the initiative’s ambassador in Brazil.  As a volunteer, his job is to promote the code’s use in the academic world.  “ORCID can even be used to identify authors on their personal websites and blogs.”

The idea of an individual registry for researchers is not new.  In 2008, Thomson Reuters created ResearcherID, a code that identifies researchers and consolidates their scientific production as recorded in the journal database Web of Science (WoS).  Elsevier, the publisher that maintains the Scopus journal database, introduced the similar Scopus Author Identifier just as Google was developing ScholarID, which captures scientific production from several Internet sources and builds researcher profiles, even offering indicators such as a scholar’s citations and h-index.  “Those initiatives had a limitation.  ResearcherID and Scopus are owned by companies that are trying to sell services and indicators and their results are open only to subscribers,” says Neves.  “In addition, they are based on a specific set of journals, the ones indexed in each database, so not all of an individual’s production.”

The advantage that ORCID has over other systems is that its registry is capable of retrieving data from any source that accepts the identifier as a reference, including databases of indexed journals, institutional repositories, thesis banks, and even profiles from academic social networks.  The platform was created with the support of scientific publishing houses such as the Nature group, interested in improving the flow and reliability of scientific article metadata (data on the data) and facilitating the work of editors and reviewers in evaluating manuscripts.  Several universities in the United States, like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), joined the initiative.  “Boston University adopted ORCID not only for its professors and researchers, but even for undergraduate students.  BU can use it to evaluate the production by its graduates and follow the course of their professional careers,” Antonio Neves says.

In countries like Portugal and Italy, ORCID has been adopted by government agencies to identify researcher production.  The resource is gaining fans in the United Kingdom, where the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), one of the organizations responsible for the expensive and meticulous evaluation of the country’s universities that is conducted every five years, has begun to encourage researchers to register in order to make their production more visible.  Funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health in the United States, and the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, introduced the registry into their evaluation systems and have begun to require that researchers who apply for funding use the identification number.

Abel Packer, coordinator of the Brazilian digital library SciELO, which maintains 280 journals on an open-access basis, says there is an irreversible trend toward adopting ORCID but it is proceeding very slowly.  “Growth has been constant, but we have not seen the boom we were expecting,” he says.  The manuscript submission form used for submitting manuscripts from more than a hundred journals to the SciELO has an optional field for inclusion of the ORCID number.  “But only 5% of authors are providing their data, a rate similar to what we’re seeing with journals from other countries,” he says.  The ideal, according to Packer, would be for scientific journals and funding agencies to make inclusion of the registry mandatory.  “ORCID will only achieve widespread use, like the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) identification system used to identify scientific articles, if it is obligatory.  Large-scale adhesion to the Lattes Platform occurred when it became mandatory for graduate students and professors,” he says.  “But many scientific journals resist requiring the registration because they are afraid of scaring off authors.”

The reason that consolidation of ORCID is occurring slowly, in Packer’s opinion, is that too many authors have not yet realized how useful the registry can be, and the same is true of universities, publishers, and agencies.  “A hefty contingent of researchers maintains profiles on scientific social networks like ResearchGate, and Mendeley, where they gather and publish their scientific works.  For many of them, signing up for ORCID is just another task toward achieving the same objective,” he says.

Packer says that an essential step toward disseminating ORCID in Brazil would be to integrate it into the Lattes Platform.  “It would be very useful for Brazilian researchers if the information they have already recorded in their Lattes résumés were retrieved automatically by ORCID,” says the SciELO coordinator, arguing that Lattes urgently needs to reinvent itself.  “The Brazilian platform needs to undergo radical innovation if it is not to be left behind.  It was developed as a unique database of résumés, an example for the rest of the world, but in recent years it should have changed to become a social network on which researchers could engage in networking and even work on virtual teams, as happened with Mendeley or ResearchGate.  Lattes’s loss of influence and the barriers erected to the access and exchange of data are tragic developments that reveal the difficulty Brazil has in innovating,” he says.