ORCID: some questions and answers

Posted on September 13, 2011

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The following is from an email exchange with Nicky Ferguson. These are my answers to the questions
he posed, and as such shouldn’t be considered the opinion of the ORCID project itself. They are the
answers I believe are correct, based on the meetings and discussions I have been part of on the
technical advisory group.

If any other member of the advisory group can correct any inaccuracies in the comments, I’d be
most appreciative.


> 1.  ISNI, ORCID, VIAF etc … will they each or should they be a
> subset of UUID, in a world where there is a need for identifiers for
> all sorts of things from lab notebooks to datasets to institutions, as
> well as researchers?

ORCID and VIAF have both plumped for a ‘short’ number and a verbal
prefix (eg VIAF ID: 747462). It is intended (eventually) that the profile 
corresponding to a given ORCID should be able to be found from
an ORCID site, and not necessarily the ORCID site.

You can currently construct URLs for both
where that ID number is used as a suffix to do a lookup on that
researcher/author/etc, with effort and consideration being made so
that the URL prefix will not change in the near future. It is naive to
think that any URL prefix that will never, ever change but keeping the
URL usable for as long as humanly possible is given serious thought.

With UUIDs, you will have to do something identical as there is no DNS
lookup *system* for them but a handful of individual sites that record
links as it suits them. Due to the UUID range being so large, the key
advantage of the scheme is that given a suitably random manner to
generate them, collisions between UUIDs made on separate systems are
incredibly rare. I’m not sure that anyone has recorded a collision
yet, (disregarding those due to poorly configured entropy pools on
virtual machines) This means that it is perfectly reasonable to
generate UUIDs for things completely independently of any central
organising body, and so makes them very cheap and long-lasting.

People do not like them however – subjectively – they do not like them
as part of visible URLs, they do not like them as identifiers to
wield, and they do not like identifiers for themselves that they
cannot remember by rote.

> 2.  Who decides who is a researcher?  In the UK some universities call
> all their members of staff  “teacher/researchers”, others make a clear
> distinction.  What about schoolchildren who jointly author a paper?
> What about researchers in charities or industry who may never author a
> paper.  What about peer-reviewers and research “users”?

ORCID currently is an “Allow then Deny Later” system. The main
‘ORCID’ site will be a self-signup website (with an initially limited
ability for proxies to sign up and create and amend profiles for others)
and the ‘researcher-iness’ of profiles will not be policed as there is no need to,
unless the profile claims something untruthful.

The core of the system is based on trust – if a person claims an institutional affiliation,
that will be marked as untrusted until that institution
verifies this. If an institution or research group doesn’t verify the
data, care is being taken that this is displayed as clearly as
possible.

There is no need to police people, only to police the claims they make
about themselves and the works they claim to have a hand in
publishing.

>
> 3.  Even institutions which pride themselves on their research may
> only have 20-30% of their staff who are researchers, how do you sell a
> business case to them that they should alter their systems to
> accommodate an identifier for only a minority of the staff on their
> finance/HR/security systems?

Again, the ORCID system (and to an extent the VIAF system) is geared
to help the researcher – at a basic level, keeping a note of the ID
which a researcher has is all that is required to begin to benefit
from it. I think that due to the well understood pace at which change
occurs within the administrative systems of an institution, the first
meeting at which a business case for change might need to be presented
will occur many, many months after the researchers have adopted the
system for themselves as just part of the academic toolset. And if the
researchers do not find it useful, then it will disappear like so many
of the previous ID systems.

> 4.  Similar question about researchers themselves – they have been
> disappointingly reluctant to deposit their papers in repositories and
> to use grant numbers in their publications, even when “mandated” – who
> will design the compelling interfaces which will encourage them to use
> ORCID … in the academic community we don’t have a great track record
> at designing compelling interfaces?

It is not an academic community that is designing the interface for
one – it has already been outsourced to a small team of local
designers and developers that Crossref have had good working
relationships with so there is hope there. The key will be
whether or not the system will save time for the researcher and make
certain tasks that they already do easier.

The API for the ORCID
service is very much the focus at the moment and certain use-cases
have been thought through, such as encouraging publishers and journal
submission processes to use the ID system, rather than get the
researcher (or PA/postgrad by proxy) to fill in all their information
again, as well as bootstrapping the ORCID database with information
already within existing bibliographic databases so that many profiles
need only be claimed and verified, rather than generated anew.

I do not mean to knock the institutional repository scene unduly
(having been an institutional repo person myself) but I have yet to see
more than a few repositories strive to make the researcher’s
lives easier and better. It is worth noting that those repositories
are the one’s that are thriving.

>
> 5.  What role would a national registry need to play to map ORCID (or
> a.n.other identifier) with key information?  and finally …

In short, include something semantically similar to ‘rdf:seeAlso’
within the database/triplestore/profile for the national registry’s
version of the same person. Many of the codebase changes occurring at
this time are so that the informational claims within other
whitelisted registries can be automatically shown and interpreted
within the ORCID store, moving towards a multi-trust system.

>
> 6.  I understand that the idea is that the researchers themselves
> would control the registration and updating processes – but
> institutions, funders and government agencies will surely want to
> maintain their own registries/database using the ID … yes?  Is the
> mechanism for change control of personal information thought out?
>

As mentioned above, the changes occurring and being implemented are to
effect a solid multi-trust control system, which will allow for the
kind of distributed profiles you mention to be accepted. However, the
systems have to provide data such that a machine can use it, and that
may be the sticking point for a few of these systems.

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Posted in: opinion, ORCID