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J. Smith, 7600812299667638

If you search PubMed for Jennifer Smith, you get 773 hits and if you search for A. Huang, you get nearly 2,200 hits. Figuring out whether you've found papers from the Jen Smith or A. Huang that you've looked up can take some doing.

To get away from this ambiguity of common names, scientific societies and journals are starting to turn to unique identifiers for researchers. As John Bohannon writes at ScienceInsider, a number of academic publishers and scientific societies have announced in a letter that they will encourage, and eventually require, researchers to use ORCID, a nonprofit organization that provides people with a unique 16-digit number.

The signatories to the letter include the American Geophysical Union, eLife, EMBO, Hindawi, the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, the Public Library of Science, and the Royal Society. Bohannon notes that AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider, will also be joining the group.

Bohannon notes that researchers he contacted that hadn't heard of the proposal had "mild enthusiasm" for using an ID code.

"Yeah I would probably sign up," Alexander Smith, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, tells him. "I know what I've published and I keep a list of my papers on my website, so that's how people tend to find the work I've done." Smith adds, though, that having a common name can make it hard for people who are trying to find him or others with his name — Bohannon points out that there is another Alexander Smith who is a professor of medicine at UCSF and an Alexander Smith who plays in the NFL.