New Policy Aims to Help Transgender Researchers Update Names on Old Work

New Policy Aims to Help Transgender Researchers Update Names on Old Work

New Policy Aims to Help Transgender Researchers Update Names on Old Work

New Policy Aims to Help Transgender Researchers Update Names on Old Work

Published papers are an important part of a researcher’s résumé. But for those who change their names partway through their careers, the disconnect between the old name and the new can lead to serious problems.

It is a hurdle for transgender scientists in particular, many of whom say that it is not only inaccurate when publishers fail to update their names on past work, but also hurtful and discriminatory.

On Wednesday, a group of laboratories and major scientific publishers announced an agreement that aims to simplify the process of applying new names to old papers, essentially by shifting much of the administrative labor from the researcher to the laboratory.

“This change eliminates an enormous burden on researchers, emotionally and administratively, to correct the record,” Lady Idos, the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which spearheaded the agreement, said in a statement.

The agreement is not limited to transgender authors; it is meant to ease the process for anyone who wants old work to reflect a changed name.

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

“As a trans scientist, having publications under my birth name causes me to have mixed feelings about past work of which I’m otherwise proud,” Amalie Trewartha, a scientist at the Toyota Research Institute and research affiliate at the Berkeley Lab, said in the statement. “I am faced with the dilemma of either hiding certain parts of it, or outing myself. Having my name updated on my previous publications would be enormously meaningful.”

Traditionally, an author hoping to change a name on past documents has had to ask individual journals, who could object on principle — maintaining, for example, that published papers are part of the historical record and should not be retroactively altered without alerting readers — or because of practical concerns, such as whether the paper has already been referenced by other authors who might then have to change their citations, or how to register the change smoothly in metadata and across various networks.

While many journals have been updating their policies independently in recent years, the agreement announced on Wednesday is meant to streamline the collaborative process so that research authors can make their name-change request to the laboratories where they work, which would then work with the journals to process the change.

Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, an associate professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, welcomed the news.

Her work — she studies interactive storytelling, play and identity — had been published in several journals before she changed her name in 2019. Pushing each publisher to update their records accordingly has been a long and painful process, Dr. Tanenbaum said. Some of the objections she encountered stemmed from editors’ reluctance to “rewrite history,” or from concerns that name changes might open the door to fraud.

She founded the Name Change Policy Working Group in hopes of easing the name-changing process for others.

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

Having a different name on past work can also lead to unwanted disclosures by making a person’s trans identity apparent to readers, colleagues and potential employers. And it can expose people to danger, since researchers often do public-facing work that may involve sharing 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 academic work is attached to two different names, that can complicate data about the author’s readership or citations, or make it difficult for readers to access all of a researcher’s work in one place.

“It makes it much harder to claim credit for scholarship that you’ve done,” Dr. Tanenbaum said.

Joerg Heber, the research integrity officer for Berkeley Lab, said that he encountered the name-change issue while working as the editorial director at Public Library of Science. “I used to get requests, mainly from transgender researchers, about the possibility of changing their name as it appeared on their published research articles,” he said.

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

For publishers, the correction can involve technical work like updating metadata or search indexes. Pronouns, biographies or photographs may need to be updated as well.

“It can take a long time for publishers to regenerate that published paper,” Dr. Heber said. “It’s not just like changing something on a website.”

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

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

Dr. Tanenbaum said she was interested to see how the agreement would play out, adding that laboratories would have to be diligent about respecting authors’ agency while interacting with publishers on their behalf — and that publishers would need to be thorough about the technical aspects of name changes, which might involve digging through old databases, rethinking their reliance on PDF formatting or working with outside vendors who handle their data.

“We’ve seen a large uptick in the adoption of name-change policies,” she said. “Now, we are seeing exactly how much work that entails, and exactly how inflexible our platforms are.”

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