Research Ethics MonthlyISSN 2206-2483

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

PID Power: Persistent Identifiers as Part of a Trusted Information Infrastructure


We live in a world where fake news and alternative facts are, unfortunately, part of how we share information. Expertise is becoming less valued and, in some cases, is even seen as a liability. In this environment, how do we engender trust in scholarly communications?

Developing a strong and sustainable information infrastructure, which enables reliable connections between researchers, their contributions, and their organizations, is critical to building this trust. Many of the pieces we require are already in place, but work is still needed to ensure that they operate the way we need them to, and that all sectors – funders, publishers, and universities, as well as vendors and other third parties – understand the vital role each plays.

Persistent identifiers (PIDs) play an important part in making the research infrastructure work, and doing so in a transparent way, which builds trust.  Wikipedia describes persistent identifiers as: “a long-lasting reference to a document, file, web page, or other object … usually used in the context of digital objects that are accessible over the Internet. Typically, such an identifier is not only persistent but actionable … you can plug it into a web browser and be taken to the identified source.”

In the scholarly communications world, PIDs enable clear identification of and reliable connections between people (researchers), places (their organizations), and things (their research contributions and works). Examples of PIDs in common use in research and scholarship include ORCID iDs, ResearcherID, and Scopus IDs for people; GRID, Ringgold, and Crossref Funder Registry IDs for organizations; and DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) such as those minted by Crossref and DataCite for publications and datasets.

So, how exactly can PIDs help build trust in the research infrastructure – and the scholarship supported by that infrastructure?

Tackling the problem of fake reviews and reviewers is a good example of the power of persistent identifiers in practice. While the vast majority of reviews and reviewers are legitimate, unfortunately some individuals and organizations deliberately attempt to manipulate the system to their own, or their client’s, advantage. Industry organizations such as COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics – recognize that this as an issue and it’s also found its way into mainstream media, where it’s often seen as more ‘evidence’ that science isn’t working.

But imagine a world where all research institutions routinely connect their organization ID to their researchers’ ORCID records and, at the same time, assert their affiliation. That institutional validation makes information about those researchers significantly more trustworthy.

And now imagine a world where researchers routinely use their ORCID iD during the manuscript submission/review process. Where publishers routinely include those iDs in the metadata for DOIs for the papers/open peer review reports authored by those researchers. And where that information is automatically pushed back into the author’s ORCID record, for example by Crossref or DataCite. Those trusted connections (assertions)  between each researcher and her/his publications and reviews could help editors and publishers build up an authoritative picture of each researcher, creating an even higher level of confidence that they are who they say they are. Adding in information from funders about the reviewer’s awards would add an even higher level of certainty. Taken together, the use of PIDs in this way could be a powerful tool in combatting the fake author and reviewer problem.

This scenario clearly shows that tackling the issue of trust in scholarly communication requires a community approach.. Each sector plays a role: institutions connect and assert affiliations to ORCID records; publishers connect and assert works; funders connect assert awards; and PID organizations including Crossref, DataCIte, and ORCID provide the “plumbing” that enables those assertions and connections to be made, easily and reliably.

Of course, researchers themselves also need to be involved in improving trust in scholarly communications. Using PIDs is a good (and easy!) first step – the technology is already in place across hundreds of systems that researchers interact with.  So, for example, researchers who use their ORCID iD when publishing or reviewing a paper, can authorize Crossref or DataCite to automatically update their ORCID record every time a DOI for one of their works is minted (provided that their publisher includes the iD in the metadata). Likewise some funders are already collecting ORCID iDs during grant application and then connecting information about awards granted back to the applicant’s ORCID record. And, in an exciting new opportunity, it’s now possible for researchers to sign into ORCID using their institutional credentials and, at the same time, grant their university permission to update their ORCID record, including asserting their affiliation. Vendor systems across all sectors – grant application, manuscript submission, CRIS systems, and more – are supporting all these efforts.

As Simon Porter of Digital Science pointed out in his keynote at PIDapalooza 2016, the challenges of achieving this goal are at least as much social as technical. Understanding why PIDs are important is every bit as critical as implementing them in researcher systems. So, if you’d like to  play your own part in making  our vision of a trustworthy PID-enabled research infrastructure a reality, please help us spread the word about the power of PIDs in your own organizations!

Alice Meadows | Director of Community Engagement & Support, ORCID
Alice’s ORCID staff page and Alice’s LinkedIn page

This post may be cited as:
Meadows A. (2017, 27 July) PID Power: Persistent Identifiers as Part of a Trusted Information Infrastructure Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:


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