19 October 2009

Problems with identity: why we need to be careful

There are many reasons why it's important to be able to match or disambiguate the names of people publishing in the scholarly literature. Some are administrative and involve better back-end management of names in institutional repositories. Some relate to users and how the display of name variants in repository interfaces can help their search or even confuse them further.

For researchers, there are a whole series of consequences of not managing publication names. For starters, when a database can't match J Smith and Jane Smith, citation counts and the metrics based on them become distorted. Citations belonging to a single person but distributed across name versions can be called 'split citation'.

Then there's 'mixed citation', which happens when work by two people with the same name is jumbled together. There's nothing worse than someone else taking credit for your masterpiece (or, for that matter, having to take the rap for someone else's ill-conceived ideas ...). I've just found a recent article from Nature that highlights a particularly dramatic case of 'mixed citation'.

Surgeon Liu Hui had a common name ... those of us with common names usually consider this a curse. But Dr Hui wasn't worried. In fact, he turned the ambiguity of his identity to his advantage. He added the publications of all the other Liu Huis he could find to his CV to make it look better. And it worked.

For those who believe this kind of academic fraud is always going to be found out, you're right. Hui was dismissed in 2006. But not before he became Assistant Dean at Tsinghua University on the back of his impressive publication record.

Moral of this story: name management is very, very important.


Anonymous said...

I would like to follow up on that Nature article, but perhaps there is typo in your link ? -- it returns a 404 error.

Rebecca said...

Thank you very much to the anonymous commenter who noticed a problem with the link to the Nature article. It has now been fixed!