ORCID: binding the (academic) galaxy together

Adapted from picture by flickr user Jim & Rachel McArthur

I am a supporter of ORCID's goals to help establish unique identifiers for researchers. Such identifiers can then be used to help connect a researcher with all of their inputs and outputs that surround their career. Most fundamentally, these inputs and outputs are grants and papers, but there is the potential for ORCID identifiers to link a person to much more, e.g. the organisations that they work for, manuscript reviews, code repositories, published slides, even blog posts.

For ORCID to succeed it has to be global and connect all parts of the academic network, a network that spans national boundaries. On this point, I am very impressed by the effort that ORCID makes in ensuring that their excellent outreach materials are not only available in English. As shown below, ORCID's 'Distinguish yourself' flyer is available in 9 different languages. Other material is also available in Russian, Greek, Turkish, and Danish. If your desired language is not available, they welcome volunteers to help translate their message into more languages. Email community@orcid.org if you want to help.

3 important digital things all scientists should have nowadays

Good advice from Michael Koontz (@_mikoontz):

The second item on the list is something which I wrote about recently.

Why I still think people should be jumping on the ORCID bandwagon

Adapted from photo by  flickr user nanoprobe67

Adapted from photo by flickr user nanoprobe67

So I wrote this tweet…

Which triggered a lot of twitter discussion.

Which led to this blog post by Mick Watson.

Which led to more discussion on twitter.

Which led to this blog post by Brian Kelly.

Which leads us to this blog post…

Much of what I was going to say has already been said by others (I especially encourage readers to jump straight to Brian Kelly's blog post), but I wanted to add a few comments…

This is bad

A tremendous, mind-boggling, and frustrating number of hours are lost every year by people performing mindless, thankless, and painful academic administration tasks. A lot of of this work is stuff that happens 'behind the scenes', but which is essential for science to happen. Processes such as grant renewals often have to pull together all of the papers generated over the preceding grant period, and connect those papers to the researchers who were on the previous grant (and who may be named on the renewal grant). For a large research center with 100s of PIs this can involve a lot of work (tracking 100s of publications), and ultimately can end up relying on a lot of emails being sent to individual PIs. The problems get worse in those situations where people's names have changed and/or have submitted papers using slightly different formats to their names.

All of this pain is because we don't have unique identifiers for academic researchers that are consistently used across all parts of the academic system.

In taxonomics we are blessed with the widespread adoption of NCBI's taxonomy IDs. This means that I could write a publication in which I choose to describe Mick Watson as belonging to species NCBI TaxID 9606 and others would be able to work with that data. Indeed, I can go UniProt and browse species 85621 and know that this will be the same ID as used at NCBI (and many other places).

Species names can, and do, sometimes change (remember Fugu rubripes?) and biological research would be in a mess if we didn't have standardized identifiers for species. The same should be true for academics. No-one should have to waste time checking whether this 2015 paper by 'M Watson' is the same author as in this 2015 paper by 'M Watson' (this type of problem is greatly compounded for certain names).

This would be nice

I envisage a future where any publication that I contribute to is connected to my ORCID ID (strictly just 'ORCID'). Furthermore, any grant that I am named on should use the same ORCID. But why stop there? Why not connect all of my scientific endeavors? GitHub accounts could be connected to ORCID to tag all of my scientific coding with the same ID. Publish research slides on Figshare or Slideshare? Why not use ORCID? Even blog posts like this one could potentially be connected to the wider universe of ORCID-tagged material.

This is why I originally tweeted my excitement about the adoption of ORCID by arXiv. I want to see ORCID everywhere. Once ORCID gains critical mass by being adopted by enough 'key' services, then the ORCID bandwagon can really start to accelerate.

How I see ORCID being used

Echoing the views of Brian Kelly (and others), I just see ORCID primarily as a service to generate the unique ID and then act as a central authentication server for any other service that may wish to also use ORCID. In many ways, ORCID then acts like twitter, Google, and Facebook in letting you have a single sign-on system across multiple sites. Except ORCID is open and will not be mining your data to sell you stuff.

I have no interest in maintaining an ORCID page of publications. I want others to use the ORCID API to build clever tools that will leverage all of the rich information that could come about when you connect people to all of the scientific output that they have helped create. If Mick Watson ever decides to start being known as Sir Michael of Grimsby, and if he switches from using GitHub to BitBucket, this should not be a barrier from someone using the ORCID API to write a tool that generates a list of 'All of Mick's Public Code'.

ORCID may not succeed, but the promise of what it could deliver is so important that we should all give it the benefit of the doubt and try to make it work. If you have problems with ORCID, let them know. Most importantly, if you don't yet have one you should register for your ORCID identifier now! It is an open platform, run by a non-profit organization (these are good things). It takes just 30 seconds, and apart from those 30 seconds you have nothing to lose.

ORCID: Over 1.5 million IDs served

I was pleased to read that there are now over 1.5 million ORCID IDs in existence. If you didn't know, ORCID provide unique identifiers to researchers. Once you have an ORCID identifier, you can start linking all of your research to that identifier. If you change name, or if you suffer from having a very common surname, ORCID makes it easier to track your contributions to science.

From their about page:

ORCID is an open, non-profit, community-driven effort to create and maintain a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers. ORCID is unique in its ability to reach across disciplines, research sectors and national boundaries. It is a hub that connects researchers and research through the embedding of ORCID identifiers in key workflows, such as research profile maintenance, manuscript submissions, grant applications, and patent applications.

I'm hopeful that ORCID will one day become the glue to tie together all scientific output. Written a blog post, or grant, or git commit message for some piece of scientific software? There is no reason why these couldn't all be 'digitally signed' with your ORCID identifier.

If you don't have an ORCID ID — and yes I appreciate that this is somewhat of a clumsy nomenclature — you really should register now.