The Name Game: ORCID

For researchers who find their published work getting lost among other authors with similar names, a new system called ORCID may be a solution.

When Jun Yang, PhD, an endocrinologist at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, does a quick search of her name in PubMed, she gets 2,212 hits. If she looks for “Yang J,” which is how she is usually credited, 28,880 results appear.

“It is impossible to retrieve my full list of publications using the current system of name and topic searches,” Yang laments. “My true publications are well-camouflaged amongst the varied articles produced by other J Yangs!”

For ages, researchers have grappled with the frustrating issue of attribution. But now more than ever, scientists with common surnames are seeing their work buried amongst doppelgangers. Then there are those who change their last names — such as after a marriage — and risk losing recognition for past work. In a field where authorship is everything, how can scientists ensure they receive proper credit for publications?

The answer, as it turns out, is so simple that it’s hard to understand why it hasn’t been implemented sooner: a unique numerical identifier.

One particular system, known as Open Researcher Contributor Identification (ORCID), has recently gained traction. Launched in 2012, the project started as a small nonprofit initiative but quickly picked up speed. Now it is closing in on two million registrants. More and more journals are requiring ORCIDs for all submissions — indicating long-overdue progress for authorship tracking.

What is an ORCID?

An ORCID is a 16-digit number that makes sure each scientist is properly associated with his or her body of work. It is like a social security number, but for researchers.

One of the unique benefits of the ORCID is that tracks more than just scientific publications — meaning patents, media mentions, datasets, and more can all be tied back to the correct person. “This may paint a more accurate representation of any individual’s contribution to science,” says Yang.

Researchers can search and register with ORCID for free. The system operates as an open-source API, which the nonprofit makes readily available to both individuals and institutions—spanning disciplines, research sectors, and the global scientific community.

What is at Stake?

There is a lot riding on the success of a new identification system. “Publications are the lifeblood of researchers and need to be 100% visible for academics, review panels, and granting bodies,” Yang explains.

Like many other scientists, she believes that having a common last name has impeded her career in some regards. “I suspect the issue of name ambiguity also affects my chances of securing research grants,” Yang says. The review panels of philanthropic organizations likely find it frustrating when searching for her body of work and thousands of other researchers pop up.

Additionally, colleagues have a hard time locating her when they are interested in her work. “At national and international conferences, fellow scientists who look me up after my presentation often find it difficult to track my research output,” she continues. Yang has received emails from such individuals who are struggling to discover her publications. She has been on the other side of the issue too, where she could not locate the work of a researcher with another common name.

A system like ORCID would also resolve issues with cultural differences in name order. For example, Yang can be either a surname or a last name. It would help with inconsistencies in name abbreviation as well, since citations can follow several different style guides. Some may include a middle name or initial, while others do not.

Female researchers face the additional dilemma of choosing whether or not to change their name if they get married. “I kept my surname when I married so that my publications would consistently feature ‘Yang J. It turned out to be the wrong thing to do. I should’ve taken the more unique surname,” says Yang.

Without a new identification process, vast swaths of researchers — especially women — will continue to be at a disadvantage as they work to build their careers and gain recognition. Like any impediment, the inefficiencies of the current system also affect the pace of scientific progress.

What are the Challenges Ahead?

The first step to implementing a unique ID is to choose a singular system. In addition to ORCID, there are tagging systems like ResearcherID by Thompson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier.

“For any universal system, all stakeholders need to agree on a common code of conduct,” says Yang. She sees ORCID as the “perfect solution” and hopes that it continues to increase in popularity.

Fortunately, ResearchID is ORCID compliant, meaning that the two systems are able to work in unison. Scopus can also be searched by ORCID — demonstrating collaboration across platforms, despite what some may consider competing interests.

The other major obstacle involves past publications and deceased researchers. “A fair bit of work is also required of researchers, who must curate their older publications using the ORCID website,” says Yang. The system must also integrate scientists from earlier eras, who need someone to update this information on their behalf. The question of who will take this task remains to be answered.

“It would be ideal to have an automated system for assigning ORCID to authors in old papers,” Yang continues.

The publishing world is working to adopt the ORCID system, even if the backlog of past research still needs to be sorted out. “A uniform, nonprofit, world-recognized identifying system like ORCID is urgently needed,” says Yang. And it appears that much of the research community is in agreement.

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Mapes is a regular contributor to Endocrine News and is based in Washington D.C. She wrote about the bionic pancreas presentation at the presidential plenary at ENDO 2016 in the February issue.

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