Scientific publishing and names
April 13, 2008 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Identity crisis in scientific publishing :"Chinese authors are publishing more and more papers, but are they receiving due credit and recognition for their work? Not if their names get confused along the way."
posted by dhruva (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
We can't include the Chinese characters because to anyone not from China, Korea, or Japan they are meaningless and all look alike. Ditto for tone marks. Part of the real problem here is that, despite the fact that there are many, many recognized Chinese surnames, the country is actually dominated by only a handful - Chen, Zhang, Li, and Wang being some of the biggest offenders. To make matters worse, there are many people with only two-syllable names, instead of the more common three. And because of the understandable interest in preserving family lines, you can't pay a Li enough money to become a Qiang, or a Sima, or any of the hundreds of other surnames that have fallen into almost total disuse.

But if your surname is Wang, then you're basically getting what you deserve if you publish as Wang X.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:41 PM on April 13, 2008


Jia Wei, associate dean at the pharmacy school of Shanghai Jiao Tong University can remember hundreds of metabolic pathways by heart, but he gets confused by his graduate students' publications. Three of his students — Wang Xiao-yan, Wang Xiao-rong and Wang Xiao-xue (pictured above with Jia) have completely different two-character given names in Chinese, but all publish under the abbreviated name X.

To read this story in full you will need to login or make a payment (see right).


Oh, well. Flagged.

Also, it doesn't sound like the graduate students are exactly out to help themselves. Do they need a PhD to figure out that people can tell the difference between X and X?
posted by Dasein at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2008


I did a surname simulation once--start with a population of N men and women, marry them to one another and have a Poisson-distributed number of children with mean 2 (so the population size stays stable) and record ancestry through the father (=surname).

It turns out that surnames disappear at a pretty fast rate, and the big winners dominate rapidly. It seems English surnames are a few hundred years old, and most European surnames are even younger, so there are still mnay surnames in use in the west. I surmise Chinese surnames are somewhat older (probably still less than 1000 years) and so are substantially more concentrated. But we are all on the same rollercoaster. Except for Iceland.
posted by hexatron at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh shit. I'm sorry about the paywall thing. I assumed that the news section was ok for all.

It's just one paragraph, yo! Even for discussion filter there's not much to talk about.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:18 PM on April 13, 2008


Here's a link to the pdf. I hope that works.
posted by dhruva at 6:19 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


"...a Poisson-distributed number of children with mean 2..."

And all the children end up named Trout or Sturgeon.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:21 PM on April 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


Am I missing something? I'm seeing the full article...
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:26 PM on April 13, 2008


Am I missing something? I'm seeing the full article...

Are you on a university connection? If so, your school may have a subscription to Nature that lets you bypass the pay wall without having to do anything.
posted by Kosh at 6:33 PM on April 13, 2008


That's exactly what I was thinking, Kosh. Must be it.

If it helps, here is the full article reposted on some forum that I found while googling strings of text from the article.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:34 PM on April 13, 2008


There are some 93 million people in China who share the surname Wang, - yikes.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:35 PM on April 13, 2008


That's a lot of wangs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:41 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Man, looking at that pdf, I am so glad I don't have to read a language that isn't alphabet-based. (What's the word for the other kind?)
posted by Dasein at 6:42 PM on April 13, 2008


Ideographic, or logographic, dasein.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:56 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


But if your surname is Wang, then you're basically getting what you deserve if you publish as Wang X.

Yeah. But part of the problem is that some journals only put an initial for the authors' personal names, and more do so in the references section. It's hard to blame someone for publishing under the name that the publishers are going to use anyway, and doing so causes another name problem because now it looks like maybe X Wang plagiarized from Wang Xiao-yan, or that the paper that Wang Xiao-yan worked on didn't get published like (s)he said it did because I can't find it anywhere online.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:56 PM on April 13, 2008


I vaguely remember hearing a suggestion that pubmed give identifying numbers to each unique author. It'd solve this problem, and help scientists that have for whatever reason changed their name.
posted by fermezporte at 6:59 PM on April 13, 2008


This does hit westerners too. If not for a literal accident -- my father smacking into a mountain and a later husband adopting me -- I would have had to think really hard about what to call myself for work to avoid confusion with a famous sociologist, down to using a juvenile diminutive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:59 PM on April 13, 2008


> I vaguely remember hearing a suggestion that pubmed give identifying numbers to each unique author.
The people behind ISI web of science introduced Researcher ID, a unique identifier per researcher, for which I am very grateful. It can get quite hard looking for my own papers, since I have a very very common surname, and there are a lot of us.
posted by dhruva at 7:05 PM on April 13, 2008


Chinese authors should start adding internet handles to their papers. No one will confuse "Zho "Crushinator" Wang" and "Zia 'Hi-Pot' Wang"
posted by delmoi at 7:26 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have no idea if it's in the article, but in Chinese the surname is traditionally placed first - eg in Wang Xiao Yan, Wang is the surname. If the authors rearrange their names to cause less confusion for other readers, it creates even more, because you can't tell if the author is Wang Xiao YAN or Xiao Yan WANG.

A historical curiosity is that early Chinese immigrants to Australia in the gold rush times exploited the whiteys' lack of understanding about their names, by pretending that shared "middle" names were in fact common surnames, indicating family connections.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:32 PM on April 13, 2008


Hu's on (the paper) first?
posted by lalochezia at 7:56 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


We can't include the Chinese characters because to anyone not from China, Korea, or Japan they are meaningless and all look alike.

This is not limited to Chinese characters at all. I have an (important) apostrophe in my surname and I don't show up on most publication search engines, presumbaly because you can't enter my name as it's correctly spelled into most databases. For some reason this seems to have changed about 5 years ago, prior to that apostrophes were more widely accepted.

Same thing with my bank and credit cards, I have to spell my name with no apostrophe and the wrong letters capatilized. It's quite annoying.
posted by fshgrl at 8:13 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


A former coworker of mine was frequently mistaken for a world-reknown urologist since he had the same first, middle, and last name.

He's Scottish.
posted by porpoise at 8:17 PM on April 13, 2008


JOE
What the fuck do you think you're
doin? Give me my book back!

MR. WHITE
I'm sick of fuckin hearin it Joe,
I'll give it back when we leave.

JOE
Whaddaya mean, give it to me when
we leave, give it back now.

MR. WHITE
For the past fifteen minutes now,
you've just been droning on with
names. "Toby...Toby...Toby...
Toby Wong...Toby Wong...Toby
Chung...fuckin Charlie Chan." I
got Madonna's big dick outta my
right ear, and Toby Jap I-don't-
know-what, outta my left.


Sorry. Had to be done.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:24 PM on April 13, 2008


There's a third category of relevant data here: affiliation. Researchers are affiliated with institutions, which is highly relevant for all kinds of things including research funding, but this can change on a year-by-year and even a paper-by-paper basis. Some academics are affiliated with several subsections of a university and do different work for the different subsections. I think it's essential that some system of unique researcher IDs be adopted ASAP, but whatever system is used, it needs to take into account the possibility of altering affiliation.

On the upside, it'll make change of name (which people do for various reasons but in English-speaking cultures particularly affects women) less of an issue.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:41 PM on April 13, 2008


I have this exact problem with my name -- I'm a grad student in biology with the last name Miller (first name isn't Peter -- my metafilter name is another story). There is another person in a related field with my first initial, while one has to look at computer science to find someone with my exact same initials. So, basically, it will be impossible for anyone to search for all of my published articles.

It has me wanting to add a middle initial of Q.

I just don't see any easy way of handling this. Obviously, the status quo is bad. Having a unique researcher ID would be wonderful, but who would implement it on a global level? How would previously published articles be handled? Who would go through the old article and assign them researcher IDs?

A quick non-sequitor -- are any other reseachers finding more and more of their research in non-English-language journals? I'm doing a study requiring me to look up thousands of articles from 1950 until 2007. There is a trend in the 1950-1960's of biological articles in German and French as well as English, but by 1980-1990's everything is in English.... until I found 5 articles I needed that were all in Mandrian, and from 2003 onwards. I see a trend perhaps splitting the scientific literature. (Of course, n = 5 and not a randomized sample, but evidence is evidence....)
posted by Peter Petridish at 8:56 PM on April 13, 2008


Sorry. Had to be done.

This is never true.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:01 PM on April 13, 2008


And because of the understandable interest in preserving family lines, you can't pay a Li enough money to become a Qiang, or a Sima, or any of the hundreds of other surnames that have fallen into almost total disuse.

You don't need to pay them if you use the law: "Police in China, where most of the 1.3 billion people share just 100 surnames, are considering rules which would combine both parents' family names to prevent so much duplication..." (Reuters, June 2007).

But it appears that things are changing on the ground, without any incentives or coercion: "...some parents have given their child a completely new surname by combining their own surnames together. This practice is particularly evident in south China's Guangdong and Fujian provinces. The surname "Liwang" stems from the father's surname of "Li" and the mother's surname of "Wang". Some parents have plumped for more unique surnames for their children which have no connection with either of their own surnames." (Xinhua, Feb 2006)
posted by hellopanda at 9:35 PM on April 13, 2008


Assign every author a unique prime number. Multiply the numbers together to get a single number identifying all authors for a given paper. Multiply the product again by the primary author's prime number if you want to emphasize one author over the others for that paper.

The billionth prime, apparently (my abacus is broken or I would verify this for you), is 2801763489, so the first billion researchers would have numbers no larger than that. Remembering your researcher number wouldn't be much harder than remembering a phone number.

Also, assign each paper a unique prime of its own. To build a list of references in your paper, just multiply the numbers of all the papers you refer to together to get one number.

If you kept the author-number list distinct from the paper-number list, an author could multiply all the paper-primes for papers he or she has ever authored by his or her own author-prime to generate a one-number CV.

OK, maybe it makes no sense, but it would be fun.
posted by pracowity at 11:52 PM on April 13, 2008


pracowity,

So, tracking down who wrote a paper devolves into breaking RSA? ;)
posted by effugas at 12:17 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh, this is not only pretty easy to solve, but is mostly already solved.

We already have collision-free identifiers that we put sign academic papers with: email addresses.
posted by blasdelf at 2:08 AM on April 14, 2008


Albert Einstein (fuzzy79@hotmail.com)
posted by pracowity at 2:11 AM on April 14, 2008


Man, looking at that pdf, I am so glad I don't have to read a language that isn't alphabet-based. (What's the word for the other kind?)

While logographic alphabets are a more difficult to learn, I think they're still more logical. AFter all, you can read them directly as ideas, whereas with an alphabet you have to take the mental path from symbols to sounds to meaning.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:53 AM on April 14, 2008


We already have collision-free identifiers that we put sign academic papers with: email addresses.

Does that still work if you change institutions?
posted by fermezporte at 5:32 AM on April 14, 2008


Albert Einstein (fuzzy79@hotmail.com) (the_real_fuzzy79@gmail.com)
posted by pracowity at 6:12 AM on April 14, 2008


We can't include the Chinese characters because to anyone not from China, Korea, or Japan they are meaningless and all look alike.

Color me unimpressed by this argument. Arbitrary and complex coding schemes are the bread and butter of scientific research, and with unicode more than a decade old, the arguments for forcing everything into ASCII or Western European are less compelling. And of course, transposing from Eastern European languages into phonetic English is another problem as authors get indexed by multiple names. Offering separate fields for both the native unicode name and a localized phonetic translation would be the best policy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:44 AM on April 14, 2008


And my skepticism that we must coerce everything into an ASCII representation comes after having worked with a journal in Comparative Lit. where it's not that uncommon to have original and translation, with possibly a phonetic gloss as well.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:09 AM on April 14, 2008


And sorry for the triple-post, but a part of me is really thinking that this is an ugly relic of submission and publication styles that are relics of the typewriter age. If we envisioned the scientific paper as a document+attached bibliographic database a large chunk of this issue would go away.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:56 AM on April 14, 2008


I know each journal has different ways of printing author names, but is there any consensus on how they deal with suffixes? I'm a III, and I'd like to publish as such, but I don't recall seeing many articles with authors with Jr., III, Sr., or whatever.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:50 AM on April 14, 2008


I'm really not sure what the problem is here. If I need to find Xiao Wang who wrote the article on dermatology, but I find a Xiao Wang who wrote an article on quantum theory, I'm pretty sure that I found the wrong Wang. And then I do better keyword searches.

Not surprisingly, researchers and editors using search engines and publication databases find it difficult to identify Asian authors. “As a result, Asian researchers are less likely to be invited to participate in collaborative projects or to become reviewers,” says Ito.

Really? Then those are some lazy researchers and editors. If we want an author or editor, we do whatever we can to find him.

Publishers make things worse by having varying rules for Asian names. For example, journals differ in how they abbreviate polysyllabic Asian names. If journals abbreviated all the Chinese characters of a given name (Xiao-rong becoming X. R. and Xiao-xue becoming X. X., rather than shortening them to just X.), Jia says that it would help to distinguish between researchers' publications. “This is very problematic when we appraise researchers' performance or during head-hunting,” he says.

Um, maybe this would be resolved by following a fucking style guide. All the big guides deal with this issue.

I could go on with my annoyance about this, but I won't. It all comes down to people being lazy and to the fact that there either aren't industry-wide standards, or publishers/editors/authors aren't following them. People are making this way more complicated than it needs to be.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:55 AM on April 14, 2008


solipso: it really depends on the publisher. one of the places i was at would have done it:

Smith, Joseph, III in author indexes

If you're worried about the byline, if you present III as part of your name, they should publish it as such.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2008


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