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Necessary but not sufficient: unique author identifiers
  1. Andrew Marc Harrison1,
  2. Anthony Mark Harrison2
  1. 1Medical Scientist Training Program, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  2. 2Health Psychology Section, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Andrew M Harrison, Medical Scientist Training Program, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905, USA; Harrison.Andrew{at}

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For better or worse, English is the predominant language used by the international scientific and medical communities to disseminate knowledge. The 26 characters of the Latin alphabet are also arranged in names: non-unique patterns. At the time of the origins of modern biomedical research, names may have been relatively unique, at least within the biomedical research community. However, this is no longer the case.1 We now possess the capacity to visualise atoms using atomic force microscopy. We also possess the capacity to launch telescopes into space to peer into distant galaxies. However, biomedical researchers do not possess the capacity to automatically distinguish between two researchers who happen to share the same, or similar, names. One decade after the publication of articles on this subject in PLOS Medicine and PLOS Blogs,2–4 the embarrassment of this realisation is eclipsed perhaps only by the continued need to plea for a solution to this ‘intractable’ problem.

Before the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the USA and its National Library of Medicine (NLM) launched the modern PubMed system, the math, physics and computer science community solved this problem with the creation of arXiv in the early 1990s. Like modern digital object identifiers (DOIs) for unique electronic documents, this largely self-curated system linked non-unique, ‘clickable’ author names with unique author identifiers. Although arXiv and self-curation are not without flaw, this problem has plagued the biomedical research community since at least the inception of arXiv over two decades ago. …

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