Message to editors and publishers of scholarly journals: Please, please, please publish whole names. In the name of discovery, abandon the time-honored traditions of last name plus initials, partial names, etc. Why? The answer lies in Asia, especially China.
Journals using just initials, or even partial names, have always been a problem for those of us in the discovery business. You give us papers by J. Jones, J. J. Jones, John Jones, and John J. Jones. Which of these are by John Joseph Jones, which by John James Jones, John Jeffrey Jones, or by John John (remember John John?) Jones? Which are by Jane Jones, Joan Jones, etc?
Simple name matching does not solve this problem, so this stylistic (and seemingly pointless) shortcut to naming has spawned an entire research community. Do a Google Scholar search on “author disambiguation.” Many attempts are being made to develop semantic algorithms that use article content to distinguish authors with similar partial names. Of course, this requires access to article content, which is not easy to come by, another problem.
But new research indicates that this already messy naming problem is far worse with Chinese authors. And the number of scholarly articles published by Chinese researchers is approaching that of those published by American authors, the largest single country group. In fact there is active debate in the bibliometric community as to when China will pass the USA in scholarly output.
According to a Science magazine news item, a study appearing in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology has mind boggling numbers regarding the extremely low density of last names in China versus the very high density in America. A study of 18 million people in the USA found nearly 900,000 last names, or roughly one last name per 20 people. This is the measure of the melting pot and it makes last names a credible filter of sorts, albeit a crude one.
But the number of family names found among a whopping 1.28 billion Chinese is just 7,327, or roughly one last name per 200,000 people. This name density difference is roughly 10,000 to one. Metaphorically speaking, almost everyone in China has the same last name, while almost no one in America has the same last name. It follows from these numbers that trying to differentiate Chinese authors using less than their full names is probably a hopelessly coarse filter.
I suspect this problem is also found among other countries which have not been the locus of waves of immigration. In fact, I recently had a small discovery project founder on the ambiguity of scientists named “Kim” in Korea. Perhaps there are deep anthropological, cultural, or sociological reasons for these low name densities, but that is irrelevant for present purposes.
The scholarly publishing community must use full names if discovery is going to work. We are trying to show the public that publishing adds value, and discovery is a big part of that value. I realize that there are several budding attempts to provide the ultimate solution to this problem, which is numbering everyone, such as ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) and INSI (International Standard Name Identifier). I am not optimistic about this sort of global collaborative effort, there being several million STM authors. But in any case, it would be a huge advance if the journals simply published complete names. That should be easy enough to do, unless it involves major software changes or some such.
D. E. Wojick (what’s my name?)