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Keeping Track

When several researchers share the same name, it's hard to tell whose publications are whose, says Nature News' Declan Butler. In 2011, Y. Wang was credited as an author on 3,926 publications — that's more than 10 per day — though, of course, the publications were written by many different people with the same name. "The list of the world's top 100 authors, all of whom show similarly impressive production rates, is a who's who of conflated Zhangs, Lis, Chens, Lees and other Wangs," Butler says.

But an ID system purports to clear up the confusion. Later this year, the Open Researcher and Contributor ID, or ORCID, will launch — Butler says this "identifier system ... will distinguish between authors who share the same name." The ORCID committee was set up in 2010 as an independent organization, and about 280 research bodies, funding agencies, and publishers have since become members. According to the ORCID plan, every scientist on the planet will be assigned a machine-readable 16-digit identifier — a bit like a supermarket barcode. Publications could then be tracked by ORCID number. "US federal research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, are in discussions to integrate ORCID with a planned identifier scheme called the Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae (SciENcv), which will automatically create CV-like profiles of agency scientists," Butler says. "These would be used to populate and update staff directories and websites, and to generate science metrics. They could, for example, track the publications or patents that have resulted from grants, or check for duplicate funding."

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