New Coverage Goals to Assist Transgender Researchers Replace Names on Previous Work

Published work is an important part of a researcher’s résumé. But for those who change their name over the course of their careers, the separation between the old and new names can create serious problems.

It’s a hurdle especially for transgender scholars, many of whom say it’s not only inaccurate but also hurtful and discriminatory for publishers not to update their names in relation to past work.

On Wednesday, a group of laboratories and major scientific publishers announced an agreement aimed at simplifying the process of applying new names to old papers by essentially moving much of the administrative work from researcher to laboratory.

“This change relieves researchers of a tremendous emotional and administrative burden to correct the dataset,” said Lady Idos, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which led the agreement, in a statement.

The agreement isn’t limited to transgender writers; It is designed to make the process easier for anyone who wants old works to reflect a changed name.

A network of 17 national laboratories doing research in a variety of scientific fields and 13 publishing organizations including the American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, arXiv, Royal Society of Chemistry, Springer Nature and Wiley signed the agreement.

“As a trans-scientist, I have mixed feelings about previous work under my maiden name that I’m otherwise proud of,” Amalie Trewartha, a researcher at the Toyota Research Institute and research partner at Berkeley Lab, said in the statement. “I’m faced with the dilemma of either hiding certain parts of it or out myself. It would be hugely meaningful to update my name in my previous publications. “

Traditionally, an author who wanted to change the name of previous documents had to ask individual journals that might object in principle – for example, that published articles are part of the historical record and should not be changed retrospectively without warning the readers – or for practical reasons Reasons, for example whether the paper has already been referenced by other authors who may then have to change their quotations, or how the change can be registered smoothly in metadata and in different networks.

While many journals have independently updated their guidelines in recent years, the agreement announced on Wednesday aims to streamline the collaboration process so research authors can submit their name change request to the laboratories they work in, which would then work with the journals to make the change to process.

Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Irvine, welcomed the news.

Her work – she studies interactive storytelling, gaming, and identity – was published in several magazines before changing her name in 2019. Getting every publisher to update their records accordingly has been a long and painful process, said Dr. Tanenbaum. Some of the objections she encountered stemmed from editors’ reluctance to “rewrite history” or fears that name changes could open the door to fraud.

She founded the Working Group on Name Change Policy in the hope of making the name change process easier for others.

“Many transsexuals find their previous name harmful,” she said. “And the disclosure of a trans person’s former name is often used to attack us.”

Another name in previous work can also lead to unwanted disclosure by making a person’s trans identity visible to readers, colleagues and potential employers. And it can put people at risk, as researchers often do public work that may reveal their contact information – like a lecturer whose email is shared on a university website – or even their physical location.

And then there are pragmatic problems: If a person’s scientific work is linked by two different names, this can make it difficult to identify the readership or citation of the author, or it can make it difficult for readers to have all of a researcher’s work available in one place.

“It makes it a lot harder to claim recognition for a scholarship,” said Dr. Tanenbaum.

Jörg Heber, the research integrity officer for Berkeley Lab, said he encountered the name change issue while working as editor of the Public Library of Science. “I used to receive requests, mostly from transgender researchers, for the option to change their name to match the way it appeared in their published research articles,” he said.

The process can be especially daunting for researchers who have published work in multiple media. “If you’ve been into research for a long time,” said Dr. Heber, “that’s a lot of articles you’ve written.”

For publishers, the correction can include technical work such as updating metadata or search indexes. Pronouns, bios, or photos may also need to be updated.

“It can take a long time for publishers to replenish this published paper,” said Dr. Lifter. “It’s not like changing anything on a website.”

But publishers play an important role in “the entire knowledge ecosystem,” said Judy Verses, executive vice president at Wiley, a major New Jersey-based publisher, in Wednesday’s statement.

“This partnership shows the power of scientific collaboration – not just to propel the world forward with new discoveries, but also to drive inclusivity with impact,” she added.

Dr. Tanenbaum said she was interested in seeing how the agreement would play out, adding that the labs would need to carefully respect the authors’ agency when interacting with publishers on their behalf – and that publishers would understand the technical aspects of name changes , which may include searching through old databases, rethinking their reliance on PDF formatting, or working with outside vendors to process their data.

“We have seen a huge surge in the introduction of name change policies,” she said. “Now we can see exactly how much work that entails and how inflexible our platforms are.”

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