In recent years, several organizations (publishers, arXiv, universities) started pushing for systems of a reliable author identification, gaining considerable traction with the recent launch of ORCID. This works by assigning IDs to persons. In some cases, the person itself can then connect his/her articles to the person ID. In other cases, publishers ask / plan to ask for the ID upon manuscript submission.


  • ORCID (supported among others by Spinger, Elsevier, American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, IEEE, Institute of Physics)
  • ResearcherID by Thomson Reuters
  • Scopus Author ID

There are some obvious advantages of a precise and machine-readable author identification. These pros are strongly advocated by the big organizations, which are of course very interested. But what about the cons? Before all researchers become obliged to using such IDs, we should discuss the cons and potential problems.

What do you think and what are the biggest potential disadvantages for the authors? Do you know some nice article / blog / discussion about disadvantages?

Related texts:

  • Voting to close as "not constructive". As F'x says in his answer, the question is argumentative.
    – JeffE
    Jan 7, 2013 at 3:49
  • Once you publish with a name it is in the science citation index and in Math Reviews ( if math) linked to that name . Not having standard IDs makes them work harder in some cases to match up Erdos and Erdös. It allows some confusion for John H Conway and John B Conway. But the work gets done and I see few advantages to avoiding it.
    – user4515
    Jan 7, 2013 at 6:36
  • @AaronMeyerowitz: I converted your answer to a comment, since you were talking about the pros of author IDs, while the question is about the cons.
    – user102
    Jan 7, 2013 at 10:01
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    Not enough to be an answer, but I would worry if the system is closed sourced and owned by a publisher. A system where you would have to pay to be indexed would be a disaster.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 7, 2013 at 10:02
  • For reference: mathoverflow.net/questions/118202/… Jan 7, 2013 at 14:25

4 Answers 4


Your question is long and somewhat argumentative. I'll answer here to a small part of it. You say:

“Are you sure that you will still be proud of your last paper in 20 years time? In some cases you might prefer to not include a certain article in your next grant/job application.”

To me, the sounds very contradictory with the principles and aims of scientific publishing, regardless of how identification is performed. Once something is published under your name, it is part of the academic record and should not disappear, even if you don't like it anymore.

It is actually a very good thing that the integrity of the academic record, including published literature, is maintained throughout history. It is even part of scholarly publishers' duties to do so. That it is associated with your name and affiliation(s), or with a unique identifier, doesn't change naught. To given an example, if an academic were to produce a full list of publications (as part of a long CV or grant application) and willingly omit a publication from this list, I would consider it unethical (though I don't think it is something that often happens).

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    Your position on the integrity of an academic record seems maximally strict. Why is it important for science and the well-being of the scientific community whether a certain paper (whether containing mistakes or not) was written by me or someone else? [Except for questions concerning my jobs or my grants] Let's say, you wrote at some point a silly paper. Don't you want to have / have a right not to promote it further? Jan 6, 2013 at 18:10
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    Your position on the integrity of an academic record seems maximally strict. — And rightly so. No, I do not have the right to pretend my "silly" papers do not exist. If you think you might be embarrassed by a paper in 20 years, don't publish it.
    – JeffE
    Jan 7, 2013 at 3:45
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    @CraigPeterson Science works that way: stuff you write might be contradicted or invalidated by future work (yours included!), but that does not make it “stupid” or “foolish”. Papers are judged by how they advanced the field at the time they were published, not 20 years later. If the conclusion drawn in the paper is later rebuked by others, that's part of how knowledge is gained and your contribution to it remains. (you don't hear anyone saying “hey, the gravitational formulas by that guy I. Newton are only accurate to the first order for low velocity, how lame!”)
    – F'x
    Jan 7, 2013 at 8:28
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    @CraigPeterson There is a difference between your personal life and your scientific life. The former is private. The latter is not. The word "publish" literally means "to make public".
    – JeffE
    Jan 7, 2013 at 13:51
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    @CraigPeterson: All of your papers should be already indexed by Google, Citeseer, etc, so you can't really choose what someone you meet knows about you. On the contrary, you might have a good paper that doesn't show up because the editor forgot your first name, and you have a common last name, but that not-so-good paper is the first search result on google. Author ID don't change the visibility of your research, it just makes the search for it consistent.
    – user102
    Jan 8, 2013 at 10:15

In mathematics, we already have a database of this sort - two them, in fact, with in MathSciNet and Zentralblatt MATH. Both aim to be comprehensive for mathematics publications, going back to the 1940s. It is completely standard for me to use this to get a list of every publication (in mathematics) by a fellow mathematician, and anyone can do it about me. These data have indeed been used to perform scientific analysis of collaboration patterns, which are somewhat fascinating, as in this paper.

So, if there were going to be cons, this might be a fruitful place to look for them. As someone in the field, the main cons that I see are not with the fact that the database is public and complete - after all, the point of publishing is to make a paper public. The main issues I have are with the relationship between the database and my day-to-day workflow:

  • Occasionally, publications outside academia may not be present. For example, if someone publishes a chapter of a popular book, or writes editorials based on their professional knowledge, these may not be indexed.

  • The system is still only marginal for getting actual copies of the papers that are indexed. This has gotten slightly better over time, but I generally still have to google the title of the paper to look for preprints, copies on the author's webpage, etc. The system has slowly been adding links to the publisher's canonical page for each paper.

  • As far as I know there is no way for me to add a link to my personal webpage to either system.

  • Papers only appear in the database after publication, which can be years after they were presented at conferences and well known to the research community. So someone in a distant location would find it hard to keep at the cutting edge of research solely looking at the databases.

  • 4
    "Occasionally, publications outside academia may not be present": MathSciNet indexes only publications in mathematics; so this problem is even worse: the literature in the computer science, physics and engineering is ignored. For some researchers, this is where most of the citations come. Jan 8, 2013 at 14:54

One downside that hasn't been mentioned yet: if the administrators of this system collect and record everyone's email addresses, then this has some disadvantages for researchers.

A big targeted database with e-mail addresses, research interests, institutes and whatsnot has a great value for advertising companies. I am sure we all get enough spam, and a fraction of it is researcher-targeted spam: vanity press, dubious publishers, cash-cow conferences. Wouldn't they all like to have more addresses?

Moreover, many of us are going to be working actively to keep our profile up-to-date and accurate; we will be basically working for free to build and check such a database. Many of us are already doing this for Google Scholar.

If the database contains email addresses, access to them needs to be strictly regulated; any form of machine and automated access in particular. If there is a commercial entity behind it, that is another major concern. A private firm can be sold to evil stakeholders, or can go bankrupt and have to sell the database. Even if the database owners do not do anything, a simple hacker attack can expose a well-structured database of the e-mail addresses of most professional researchers.

  • 1
    Your concern seems to be all about email addresses. First, it is not clear why one would have to link a universal ID to an email address. I use Scopus and never had to give them my email (nor do I think they store my email). Second, hindering the creation and functionality of useful databases to decrease spam seems silly. We need better ways of stopping spam that do not require us to protect our email addresses.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 8, 2013 at 13:52
  • 1) Orcid does indeed require an e-mail address. And, although it's not mandatory, I have registered on Scopus and Web of Science for extended functionality, and I still wouldn't like my e-mail address to be sold to spammers. Even worse, I have an account at Elsevier and my password is stored in plaintext. 2) I am not suggesting that we should refrain from building such a database. The OP knows about the upsides and asked for downsides, and here I am giving one. 3) E-mail addresses aren't the only concern - name, subject and institute are enough to send unwanted communications via snail-mail. Jan 8, 2013 at 14:44
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    Security risks concerning data considered private (passwords, email addresses, IPs, etc.) are certainly a valid point. And spam is probably not the only potential use for a worldwide register of scientists of known expertize. Jan 8, 2013 at 17:20
  • This is not only about e-mail. Often a website has a huge value only because it has a large user base, contains personal data about them, can track their interests and online behaviour, and has potential for monetizing by adding simple paying "premium" services. Consider that, for instance, Twitter is valued over $8 billion. This database may have some commercial potential as well. Jan 9, 2013 at 12:47

A few possible problems:

1) Such an ID system seems a little intrusive. It would impose something like an obligatory Facebook for researchers.

2) Everyone's research output could then be identified reliably (in machine-readable form) and used for all sorts of data mining. Among the possible uses some may not be desirable for everyone:

2a) Algorithmic rating of a researcher's output becomes very simple for anyone interested. It might reinforce the tendency for people to judge by some computed rank, instead of actually looking at the content of the articles.

2b) Authors might be tempted to optimize their (machine generated) rankings by annoying tricks.

2c) People could easily study the "graph of your collaborators" etc. (adding to point 1).

3) You lose every control over the communication about your publication list. Instead of being able to present it yourself to others it is stored in a public database to which you have no access. Hence, you cannot choose anymore whether you want to present your publication list to others in machine-readable form or not, and whether you want to present the full list, or (for what ever reason) a certain subset.

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    Why would you not want to publish your publication list? It is your scientific output which you should be proud of. Jan 6, 2013 at 18:33
  • @Paul Hiemstra: For me personally that is certainly still the case. But if someone has published a paper that later turned out to be wrong or silly, he/she will not be particularly proud of it anymore. Jan 6, 2013 at 18:57
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    If you publish something you should take responsibility for it, everyone knows that an old paper can be obsolete now. Google Scholar and other tools already track this, so why be scared for this better link between you and your papers. Jan 6, 2013 at 19:00
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    @Paul Hiemstra: For me, the question is not about taking responsibility or not - of course you should. At the moment, the collected data (e.g., from google) is still noisy - which can be considered to be a remaining degree of freedom. The present imprecision hinders a reliable algorithmic analysis of the "web of science". Once we are given unique eternal IDs, linked to our papers, this situation is gone. This could change the game to some extent and I wonder about possible negative implications. Jan 7, 2013 at 11:51

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