For around 50 years, commercial books have been uniquely identified by international standard book numbers (ISBNs). The more recent digital object identifier (DOI), dating back to 2000, provides a persistent digital identifier for an information source. Many SIAM News readers are likely familiar with DOIs for research papers, and know that a DOI can be resolved to a web address by prepending it with https://doi.org/.
What was missing until recently was a way to uniquely identify a researcher. The need for this is obvious to anyone who has tried to explore an individual’s publications without access to a complete publication list. A web search is likely to bring up multiple researchers with close names who are hard to distinguish, and even a Google Scholar profile may contain spurious items belonging to similarly-named researchers if the owner does not actively maintain it. MathSciNet goes to some lengths to disambiguate authors, but requires a subscription and does not cover all the literature in which mathematicians publish.
Cartoon created by mathematician John de Pillis.
Introduced in 2012, an ORCID (open researcher and contributor identifier) is a unique identifier that allows research publications and research data to be associated with a researcher. It is a 16-digit number, written in the form xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx or as a URL, such as http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5956-4976 (my ORCID). A nonprofit organization—also called ORCID—maintains the identifiers and obtains its funds from organizational membership (SIAM is a member
) and subscription fees.
An ORCID iD is becoming essential for researchers. My university obliges every faculty member to have one, and a growing number of publishers (including INFORMS, the IEEE, and the Royal Society) require that an ORCID iD be entered for each author submitting a paper. This is also true of certain funders in countries including Portugal, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S.
ORCID iDs are increasingly becoming a quick and unambiguous way to specify a researcher. For example, some journal platforms—such as SIAM’s platform and ScholarOne—allow editors to select referees by ORCID iD.
You can register for an ORCID at https://orcid.org. Doing so creates a web page on the ORCID site that you can customize to include your publications and personal information, such as website and other web presences (repositories and social media), education, employer, and any other names by which you might be known (or used to be known). You will need to populate your ORCID record using one of the import tools. Full control over visibility of the record is available at the content heading level (“everyone,” “trusted parties,” or “only me”).
An ORCID record also includes a funding section. I listed my funding sources while writing this article, and was able to add all of my recent grants with a couple of clicks, thanks to ORCID’s links with funding agencies.
Author Nicholas Higham’s ORCID page offers an example of the identifier’s unique layout. Image courtesy of Nicholas Higham.
SIAM has been collecting ORCID iDs from authors at submission time since June 2017. A benefit of this is that papers’ metadata can be automatically posted to authors’ ORCID records (provided they have granted permission) via CrossRef (the organization that creates DOIs for SIAM publications). Ultimately, it should therefore be possible for an ORCID record to be kept up-to-date without any action by the owner, who only needs to declare their ORCID ID to SIAM once. An author can do this when submitting an article or by updating their SIAM peer-review system profile. For academics used to repeatedly entering the same information into different systems, ORCID’s auto-updating feature should be a welcome change.
How does one get to an author’s ORCID page? Typing the name into the search box at https://orcid.org/ is one way. Alternatively, some publishers now include in papers a link from an author name to the corresponding ORCID page.
ORCID is not perfect. It does not validate identification, so there is nothing to stop authors from sharing an ORCID iD, and instances of this have occurred . And while a hallmark of any well-designed information system is the ability to get out whatever data is put in, ORCID currently has limited export capabilities.
At the time of writing, there are over 3.9 million ORCID records, compared with the roughly eight million scientists worldwide. In a recent Science article , John Bohannon used the 25 percent of ORCID records that are publicly available and contain personal information to study researchers’ mobility, identifying some interesting trends. The ORCID data shows a steady growth of foreign scientists immigrating to the U.S. since 1990, with a plateau in 2002, the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
An ORCID iD is becoming an essential part of a researcher’s toolkit. It provides a permanent digital CV that acknowledges a researcher’s publications and grants and supplies links to them. The integration of ORCID with other information systems promises that much routine form-filling will be reduced to simply entering one’s ORCID iD.
1 I have had to remove papers from my Google Scholar profile that belong to a retired professor of history at my university with exactly the same name.
2 It is standard practice to refer to “ORCID iD,” even though the “iD” is superfluous.
 Bohannon, J. (2017). Restless minds. Science, 356, 690-692.
 Leopold, S. (2016). Editorial: ORCID is a Wonderful (But Not Required) Tool for Authors. Clin. Orthop. Relat. Res., 474, 1083-1085.
|| Nicholas Higham is the Richardson Professor of Applied Mathematics at The University of Manchester. He is the current president of SIAM.