Berkeley Lab leads nationwide name change process for research papers

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Berkeley Lab is leading a nationwide effort to harmonize individual actions bypublishers to update their name change policies, particularly on research papers.

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For years, researchers would independently contact publishers to ask for their names to be updated on old research papers.

These requests would be done for a variety of reasons — gender transitions, religion, marriage or divorce — but underlying the process was a lack of consensus among publications, according to a July 28 press release from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Some organizations may have denied name change requests or would publicize them as corrections, an editorial decision that would often out transgender authors to their colleagues.

At the center of this would be the researcher: the person spending their free time — not advancing their field — but trying to make sure they get credit for their previous discoveries.

“It would be a huge deal if I could have just talked to someone at the lab and have all of this done on my behalf,” said Amalie Trewartha, a researcher at Berkeley Lab, in a podcast produced by the research institute. “It would have taken a lot of work off my plate.”

But now, after the announcement made last week by all 17 U.S. national laboratories and more than 15 publishers, researchers such as Trewartha will have someone to advocate on their behalf and a group of publishers willing to acknowledge their preferred name, according to the press release.

Led by Berkeley Lab, the initiative was started by the group’s newest research integrity officer, Joerg Heber, who collaborated with Lady Idos, the institute’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, as noted in the lab’s podcast.

The effort seeks to harmonize individual actions by publishers to update their name change policies.

The American Chemical Society made such changes in October 2020, recording more than 200 updated publications since then, according to the organization’s senior publications ethics analyst, Shaina Lange.

Groups such as Wiley and Elsevier also announced their own updates in January and March 2021, respectively.

“Collaborations like this are critical to improving equity and inclusivity within the research ecosystem,” Lange said in an email.

Inclusion in the sciences is something Trewartha discussed in the Berkeley Lab podcast, noting that, since attending graduate school in 2010, the community has become more accepting but still has room for improvement.

Not allowing researchers to change their names reflects an assumption that privileges people who have one name throughout their lives, she noted, and other documents, such as conference proceedings and datasets, could still have incorrect names on them even after this nationwide initiative.

“There has been a big shift, and I think things are still continuing to shift and there is still a long way to go,” Trewartha said during the podcast.

Contact Tristan Shaughnessy at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @TristanShaughn2.