Nature | Editorial

Track and trace

Identifiers that follow researchers’ work from grant to paper will make funding more effective.

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More than half a million researchers have now signed up for an online science passport: a unique 16-digit identity number, with an accompanying online profile, from the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) project. There, researchers can maintain an up-to-date record of their professional pursuits.

Already, ORCID is being integrated into the ecosystem of science: many publishers accept ORCID identifiers in their manuscript-submission processes, and funders including the Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health are accepting the identifiers to streamline grant applications. Universities and research institutions are planning to use the system to track their researchers’ output throughout their careers.

So far, the ORCID website has prompted scientists to record outputs such as articles, data sets, citations, patents and media appearances. This fits in with the growing desire of institutions and funding agencies to recognize the full range of researchers’ activities and impacts.

But this week, ORCID begins to request a new set of data — inputs. Researchers logging in to their profiles will be prompted to add the details of their grants, or to confirm information on grants they hold. Such information is often publicly available on the Internet, but scattered across funding-agency websites, rather than collated for individual scientists. ORCID hopes to improve tracking of the connections between the cash that funders pour into research and the results that emerge.

Another service that makes it easier to link grants in with papers out is FundRef, launched last year by the non-profit publisher alliance CrossRef. It provides a standardized format for adding funding information to the metadata of research articles published online.

The result — if such systems catch on — should be easier tracking of the efficiency of the science system. Which academics produce the most for the grants they receive, and why? What kinds of grants are most effective at prompting what types of output? That is something funders and economists would dearly like to know. They have made individual efforts, but a bigger-picture understanding has been held back by lack of connectivity across agencies.

There is perhaps a danger that scientists — so used to measuring the properties of others — will be resistant to having information recorded on themselves. (Less than one-quarter of researchers signed up to ORCID have actually listed at least one output on their profiles.) But ORCID (of which Nature Publishing Group is a partner) gives researchers control over the information that they allow to be publicly visible. Hopefully, they will embrace the opportunity to make science funding more effective and evidence-based.

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
507,
Pages:
8
Date published:
()
DOI:
doi:10.1038/507008b

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