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Why I don’t quite trust ORCID

ORCID is an initiative to provide a unqiue ID for every person in the world publishing research. Great, it’s been a long time coming.

It uses entirely non-semanic IDs, with no indication of name, age, nationality or host organisation, making them smoothly transferable throughout a career. This is the right way to do it.

But there are a few things about ORCID I’m worried about.

You can’t use ORCID without allowing Google Analytics to watch you

The way they’ve designed their website, they use Google hosted services. This means you can’t log on properly or use other features if you choose to block Google analytics, which I do. I don’t see any reason Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. should get to know what I’m looking at when I’m not on their sites. I’ve used Ghostery to block web-trackers since soon after ECS graduate Mischa Tuffield pointed out the fact that facebook could track what pages you visitied on the NHS website.

ORCID are aware of the issue, but have not yet addressed it, other than to suggest allowing Google Analytics on their site. My resentment starts to rise at that.

The reason this is such a big concern is that there’s talk of making using ORCID mandatory when publishing some research and applying for grants. If ORCID wants to be a neutral core to the research world it should not force me to disable my privacy settings.

It sounds like they would change this given more developer cycles, but for me it’s a dealbreaker. It might seem petty, but the right for privacy is important, especially when Google makes it so easy to just give in and let them have everything.

No state funded organisation should madate ORCID until they fix this. It should not be too difficult to fix compared with the next, more challenging concern:

It’s really really not politics-proof

Right now ORCID sits on servers in Texas. It’s open source, which is good, but that doesn’t address my concern that it’s not distributed. Only one authority can assign ORCID and they are subject to US law. If there’s a trade embargo does that mean that Iranian researchers can’t get an ORCID? How about ones in North Korea?

More importantly, what happens if there’s a trade war between the EU and USA and they decide to cut of access for EU citizens to US provided internet services?

I would be much happier if there was a way to fork the database & code, and for any authority to set itself up to assign ORCIDs, or at least have an international committee which could award the right to grant IDs to authorities, independent of any one power block.

Distributed systems are more futureproof, and we want the international research community to be pretty darn robust, right?

Number of the Beast?

A final concern for ORCID is that I can see a religous argument for not using it:

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and postgraduate, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might get funded or publish, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”  – Revelations 13

I’m only half joking. It’s a bit big brother, and it leads me to my final concern:

How does this make science & research better?

The benefits of ORCID seem mostly to people monitoring and managing research, and to researchers to self promote for better jobs. We’re building blocks of fundamental infrastructure for the future of the worldwide scientific community so at every step we should be asking does this make research & science:

  • cheaper for the same quality?
  • quicker for the same quality?
  • higher quality results for the same cost?
  • able to do things we just couldn’t do before?

ORCID doesn’t really do any of those things. It promotes people, not research outputs, and that’s fine, but it’s not going to save the world.

What we really should be focussing on is how do we use the Internet to do better and new science faster and cheaper and effectively communicate it?

I would far rather see this much energy go into Scholarly HTML, but that doesn’t help count the beans, so we’re stuck with the tyranny of PDF for another decade. Yes, I know some services such as pubmed are now doing online publishing in a sane way, but had 54 HTML documents for the year 2013, and 2179 PDF documents, so we’re still simulating sheets of paper like a bunch of chumps.


On the plus side, ORCID is basically a good thing, and I hope it succeeds which is why I think it’s important to hold it to a much higher standard than a national service, or a non-essential service.

Posted in ORCID, Research Data, Terms and Conditions.

3 Responses

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  1. Isobel Stark says

    Does this make science and research better?

    Well, I think it could make collaboration better. I don’t think it is just for the bean counters.

    As a librarian I like name authority files. I like being able to tell authors apart, to know who wrote what, and I suspect academics do as well. If they are looking for collaborators, speakers, contributors to a edited volume etc knowing which articles on medieval history were written by Rosemary Morris (active in the 80s and 90 and who was one-time lecturer at Manchester) as opposed to those by Rosemary Morris (also active in the 80s and 90s but who spent her career at London and never once was employed by Manchester), means you won’t contact the wrong Morris.

  2. Robert Peters says

    Hi Christopher,
    Like many startups, ORCID is resource constrained, but that isn’t to say we’re not always
    striving to improve. I just tested the login with the Ghostery chrome plugin and verified
    login works. If you recently tested with Ghostery and are still seeing a login issue,
    please let me know.

    You also should be interested to know after seeing an issue in person with
    at the ORCID 2014 Outreach Meeting, I personally submitted a patch on May 24th
    ( Users of will see this
    live within the week.

    Of course, the the ORCID Technology Team has numerous projects/issues and we can’t address
    every issue instantly. But measured over any given timeframe, I’m proud of the progress
    ORCID has made.

    Robert Peters
    Lead Developer at

    • Christopher Gutteridge says

      I want ORCID to succeed, but if it does it becomes a building block for the entirity of scholarship so it needs to be done right.

      The issue of distribution of authority could be solved with a policy/design about how an alternate authority could mint IDs without clashing.

      The issue around google analytics sounds like it’d get sorted sooner if there was more support and funding. If funding agencies want to use ORCID, it’s important that they invest in a way that allows ORCID to hire, train and keep on good developers, rather than live on soft money which ends up hiring in people to write features. So far ORCID has the air of a project with some solid technical people behind it and architecting it and that’s important.

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