The Book of Trogool

Making author authority easier

I wrote last week about name authority control for authors. I hinted that systems are coming. I hope that journals, databases, catalogues, and repositories adopt them when they emerge, the sooner the better.

Even when they do, though, there’s an immense problem to solve, in the form of the millions (billions? I shouldn’t wonder) of articles that will have to be retrofitted into the system. It’s work not unlike what I’m doing at the moment, so I can say with authority (sorry, sorry) that it’s often not easily accomplished.

Researchers, institutions, others, you can do some things to make the transition easier. What’s in it for you? Correct credit for your work, your colleagues’ work, your students’ work! (Check Scientific Commons or CiteSeer for a sense of the scope of the problem.)

  • Researchers: track your graduate-student researchers, publicly, with their full names. If you’ve ever published with them, they should be listed, regardless of whether they achieved the degree. (There’s a rather better than even chance a name I can’t resolve belongs to somebody’s grad student, based on names I’ve had to spend a long time chasing down, and the methods that tend to work.)
  • The same goes for research staff that receive credit on published papers, and people who once worked with you but have moved on. I see some research groups with “alumni” lists on their websites. These are fantastic! They’re even more helpful with dates of tenure.
  • Conference organizers: resist the temptation to use initials on published conference papers. Please use full names. Sure, everybody in the field knows good old “Smith, J.” I’m not in the field and I don’t.
  • Conference organizers: please publish presenter lists and/or conference schedules with full names. It helps a lot!
  • Women: I am acutely sensitive to gender issues in academia; I live them too, though assuredly not as much as many. I know there are strong incentives in various fields to conceal your given name in order to conceal your gender. I don’t and wouldn’t fault you for doing that. I am saying that the jig is up, however; the coming author-ID systems will make concealment impossible. Please, at least consider building a professional web presence keyed to your full name, so that people like me can ensure that people like you get all due credit for your hard work. Thanks. (There’s a pretty good chance a name I can’t resolve belongs to a woman, again based on names I’ve had to work extra hard to track down. Most of my initialisms hail from physics and engineering.)
  • Institutions: consider providing a public search of your alumni database. The one at my institution has been utterly invaluable (those invisible graduate students again!). For my purposes, I need the student’s full name along with achieved degree(s) and degree dates, and I need to be able to search on last-name-first-initial.
  • Research assessors of all stripes: please publish your institution’s author lists. A way to federate these for searching would be even better, but I’ll take what I can get. (In many articles, what I have to work from is last name, first initial, and place of employment.)
  • Cataloguers: let’s revisit transcription rules. I can entirely understand that being required to control every name in the catalogue, no matter how minor, is an unacceptable amount of work. However, being forbidden to control some names (e.g. local dissertation advisors) is going to cause problems upstream for people like me. Let’s fix this now, shall we?
  • Repository managers: Fixing names is fiddly, time-consuming, difficult, frustrating work. Let’s do it anyway. It’ll have to be done at some point!

Interesting times for metadata managers? it would be awfully nice to federate some of this work. Ah, well.