Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Richard Wynne. Richard is the founder of Rescognito, an open platform for research contribution recognition. Richard also serves as a Strategic Advisor to deepPath.aI and Cactus Communications.
If you attend a scholarly publishing conference, you’re likely to hear comments along the lines of: “the problem with ORCID is that it’s full of junk. Too many fake Albert Einsteins and Mickey Mice”. This quip makes it psychologically safe for publishing executives to either dismiss ORCID as too contaminated to be useful, or to lament ORCID’s inability to authenticate identity.
But expecting ORCID to proactively police identity is completely unrealistic and (arguably) outside its mission. The real value of ORCID is uniqueness and persistence. From a publisher’s point of view, the fact that ORCID does not guarantee authenticity is not a problem but an opportunity to add value. Layering metadata on top of a unique and persistent foundation is a fantastic way to improve their offerings and to build new, useful solutions.
Let’s consider a use case related to scholarly retractions.
Scholarly journal editorial practices are the subject of growing scrutiny. Severe reputational damage occurs when publishers are perceived as overlooking best practices in peer review and editorial integrity. Any doubt about this disappeared when hundreds of millions of dollars were wiped off the value of Wiley following their announcement of bulk retractions of Hindawi articles.
Historically, best practices in peer review revolved around the evaluation of publication content. This approach remains an important aspect of journal practice, however, the emergence of generative AI, ever-more complex content, and limited editor time, means that deriving “quality signals” from content alone is increasingly sub-optimal.
For this reason, publishers should explore “quality signals” systemically derived from researcher identity and metadata associated with identity.
The fact that an author’s work was previously retracted for alleged research malpractice (such as image manipulation) should provide an informative “quality signal” to a would-be publisher suggesting that the author’s work deserves a higher level of scrutiny. In other words, while a previously retracted author should never be outright barred from publication, publishers should never make editorial decisions without being aware of the author’s history.
Where ORCIDs are in use, this association can be made with a high degree of certainty. In the example below ORCID ID 0000-0001-6205-3317 was associated with the MDPI manuscript published on November 3, 2023 and with a manuscript previously retracted by RSC Advances on August 24, 2022:
0000-0001-6205-3317 published on November 3, 2023 by MDPI AG in ‘Rapid Photocatalytic Activity of Crystalline CeO2-CuO-Cu(OH)2 Ternary Nanocomposite‘ may be subject to a retraction or expression of concern as:
● 0000-0001-6205-3317 published in 10.1039/c7ra11763a “Retracted Article: Anti-cancer activity of hierarchical ZSM-5 zeolites synthesized from rice-based waste materials” which was subject to a Retraction notice on August 24, 2022 at: 10.1039/d2ra90079c‘
On the other hand, where ORCIDs are not in use, a similar connection can only be speculation based on name and institutional string matching:
FA Essa possibly from Kafrelsheikh University, EG published on November 6, 2023 by Frontiers Media SA in ‘Thermal and entropy behavior of sustainable solar energy in water solar collectors due to non Newtonian power law hybrid nanofluids‘ may be the subject of a retraction or expression of concern as:
● FA Essa possibly from Kafrelsheikh University, EG possibly published in ‘RETRACTED Solar still with condenser A detailed review‘ with Retraction notice June 2016: 10.1016/j.rser.2016.01.020
● FA Essa possibly from Kafrelsheikh University, EG possibly published in ‘RETRACTED Thermal analysis of an annular fin under multi boiling heat transfer coefficient using differential transform method with Pade approximant DTM Pade‘ with Retraction notice in July 2023: 10.1177/09544089231188713
Publication of previously retracted authors is not rare. Every day, hundreds of previously retracted authors are indexed in Crossref with new publications, but unfortunately only a small proportion can be definitively identified using ORCID IDs. But, using name and institutional string matching suggests a much higher level of retracted author publication.
Subject to the limitations of methodology, the results below show the approximate number of instances where a previously retracted author has been indexed in Crossref during a sample period (the first week of November 2023):
|Instances of retracted author publication based on ORCID ID
|Instances of retracted author publication based on name and institution string match
|Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory*
*publishers of bioRxiv and medRxiv
(supporting data available from Richard Wynne)
In other words, failure to comprehensively adopt ORCID iDs makes it cumbersome for publishers to know when they are re-publishing authors who were the subject of prior retractions, meaning that authors with a track record of research malpractice are continuing to contribute to the scholarly record. Bad apples are being tossed back into the barrel at an alarming rate.
Curating identity does not come naturally in a trust-based publishing culture where editors are expected to vouch for their authors, reviewers, and the integrity of their work. But historically valid editorial practices do not scale in a modern, global, open access, AI publishing context.
More than 10 years since the foundation of ORCID, most scholarly authors of newly published manuscripts are still only identified by a text string rather than by a unique and persistent identifier (e.g., based on Crossref data, on November 2, 2023, only 10,542 of the 40,883 authors in 8,426 research articles had ORCID IDs). Understandably publishers are reluctant to assume the cost of collecting additional metadata, especially for co-authors, but as I outlined in a prior Scholarly Kitchen post, such costs arise more from antiquated workflow practices than from author reluctance.
Publishers have had such durable and valuable brands that until recently, ineffective curation of researcher identity has not mattered much in economic terms. But now, the community seems much more sensitive to how well publishers perform this core function; and new markets could emerge for publishers who view this as an opportunity.