Identity crisis

    ORCID, a global ID scheme for researchers, which is being embraced by funders, universities and publishers, now has almost 2 million registrations and is growing all the time.

    While most people have a strong personal and emotional attachment to their name, it is not always a very effective way of identifying oneself. Indeed, it is estimated that around 93 million people in China have a family name pronounced 'Wang', 10 million in Korea have the name 'Kim', there are 2.4 million 'Smiths' in the US and 300,000 individuals in Sweden use the surname 'Johansson'. While in many aspects of daily life this may not cause any problems, in the publishing sector it risks causing considerable confusion.

    About 6 years ago, the creation of a not-for-profit initiative called ORCID — open researcher and contributor ID — to tackle this problem was first discussed. The mission of the initiative was simple in concept — to provide researchers with a unique numeric 16-digit ID code for unambiguous and persistent identification. The idea gained the backing of several proponents including the Nature Publishing Group, whose chief technical officer at the time, Howard Ratner, served as a chair on ORCID. On 16 October 2012, the idea finally came to fruition when ORCID officially launched its registry of IDs and since then the initiative has gone from strength to strength and grown in stature and popularity. Scientists from more than 250 countries have registered with the scheme with most traffic to the ORCID site coming from the US, China, UK, India, Spain and Italy.

    As this issue of Nature Photonics went to press almost 2 million ORCID IDs (1,937,345 to be exact) have been issued. According to Laure Haak, who joined ORCID as its executive director in April 2012, on average 15,000–16,000 researchers were registering for an ORCID ID each week during 2015 and the number is growing all the time.

    “The registration process is streamlined and takes about 30 seconds. All that's required are a researcher name, e-mail and password. Researchers control the privacy of their data,” comments Haak, who is keen to express the benefits of registering and how it works in practice.

    “Researchers, by using their ID when they make a research contribution, can distinguish themselves from others and reduce their reporting burden. Research contributions include papers, books, datasets, reviews, grants, dissertations and affiliations. Organizations, by collecting and connecting the ID, can assert the relationship between the researcher and contribution,” says Haak.

    The growth is being propelled not only by ORCID being a timely, convenient and much needed solution to a pressing problem, but also by the support of a large number of member organizations, such as universities, government and private research institutes, societies and publishers including Springer Nature.

    “Our vision is a world where all researchers are clearly identified and connected to their contributions across time, disciplines and borders.”

    “We now have over 400 members, the majority of which are research organizations,” explained Haak. “In Italy, over 70 universities and research institutes are participating in a national implementation programme funded by their education ministry. Jisc are sponsoring national consortia in the UK, which includes over 40 universities and RCUK [Research Councils UK]. Australia will be launching their national consortia in February [2016], which includes over 40 research organizations and their 2 major funders NHMRC [the National Health and Medical Research Council] and ARC [Australian Research Council].”

    Publishers are also getting behind the scheme. On 1 January 2016, 8 well-established publishers and journals including the Royal Society in the UK, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Public Library of Science (PLoS), eLife, Science, Hindawi and the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) all signed up and announced that ORCIDs would be a mandatory requirement for authors. Springer Nature is also a strong supporter of the scheme, and while we have not at the present time made it mandatory for authors we do strongly encourage them to register. In addition, several funders including the Wellcome Trust in the UK have started to insist on the use of ORCIDs for those making grant applications.

    “Overall our vision is a world where all researchers are clearly identified and connected to their contributions across time, disciplines and borders,” commented Haak. “To make that possible, we work with the community to ensure that organizations collect the identifier and connect it to works and affiliations.”

    For more information about ORCID and to register for an ID please visit

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    Identity crisis. Nature Photon 10, 137 (2016).

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