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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This post is written in response to a question by the ace Bernie Folan, from Sage publishers, who asked whether ORCID has the potential to disrupt, or conversely endorse, the problems in publication driven by accreditation structures. Here's a few of my hastily assembled, initial thoughts...

First off, for those who don't know, ORCID is an identifier system for scientists and scholars. It ensures that we don't have cases where two people with the same name are confused. Instead, everybody is given an identifier: here's me, Martin "0000-0002-5589-8511" Eve!

What could possibly be the problem here? Surely this is just a practical measure to solve a problem? Well, yes and no. First off, is it a problem? Well, there are two categories of people who care about author identity, but for both groups this only holds under specific circumstances. The first group is the authors themselves. It is important, as academics, and as recently demonstrated by Melissa Terras, that our publications are attributed to us. We'll come back to when that applies. The second group are readers. They want to know that the person writing on an issue is reputable and knows their stuff.

So, under what circumstances do these two groups worry about identity confusion? The first group, academics, don't usually expect to be paid for their output, so the problem of identity confusion is not directly financial, but rather reputational. While this might universally hold (egotism etc.) it is especially important under a system of accreditation, quantification and qualitative appraisal of research output. The second group, readers, worry more about reputation only as the idea of the gatekeeper function devolves. At present, as I've written elsewhere, journals have a nominative function, wrongly in my opinion, of bestowing credibility; journals are ranked and it's a tickbox exercise. If it's in X journal, it should be good. We're moving, slowly, away from that situation, though. I think there's a good case to be made that we should implement a mode of author brand, rather than journal brand; trust me, not the journal.

I like the idea of researcher brand for the simple reason that it's me that did the work and my work quality doesn't change dependent on where I choose to submit. Frameworks such as REF constrain my choice of publication destination. In short: the current system cannot see any reason why you wouldn't publish in the "best regarded" journal in your field (there are many reasons you might not, as I sit here sipping from my "I signed my copyright over to Elsevier and all I got was this lousy mug" mug).

However, and this is where Bernie is coming from, it's necessary to ask: is ORCID a system that facilitates further quantification and abhorrent metric systems that merely cause bureacratic overhead, or is it something that promotes an individual research narrative that leads to a freeing of "researcher brand"?

Well, to appraise this, we have to consider multiple future outcomes. Here's a speculative list: 1.) journal brand remains, even if transitional; 2.) researcher brand takes priority. In the first setting, ORCID serves mainly to strengthen existing accreditation systems such as REF; it provides a way of disambiguating and further ranking academic outputs. It functions, in my mind, far more strongly for the "benefit" of the coerced researcher to unambiguously yield their publications to assessment metrics. In the second scenario, though, ORCID functions more as a validator in a different system of academic capital. While I have no doubt that frameworks will adapt to a "researcher brand" model, it will be far harder to conduct the kind of journal brandname tickbox-style exercise that currently exists (at least in the UK). In this case, the trust model seems to operate somewhat differently; it validates that an individual wrote a paper in order to establish some form of trust. This could be seconded if, as some journals do, the peer reviewers are also non-anonymous and linked to ORCID. True academic capital exchange.

That's as far as I've got in my thoughts here. I'm sure there's much that's contentious above, but it's only a first stab over 20 minutes or so. Feel free to blog elsewhere about it and give me a shout on Twitter.