bioinformatics, genomes, biology etc. "I don't mean to sound angry and cynical, but I am, so that's how it comes across"

Why I’m not jumping on the ORCID bandwagon

Yesterday I had a bit of a lively discussion with many people on Twitter about ORCID – a “new” “standard” for enabling researchers to link themselves, their grants and their impacts in a single place.   If you want to follow the discussion, see replies to this tweet:

I stand by my comment that this is XKCD #927 all over – for me, ORCID is just another place that I need to keep my profile up to date, and it’s not even a very good one.  It’s not the standard, it is just one of many competing standards for presenting my academic life to the world (in addition to those below (PURE; Google Scholar; ResearchFish; EndNote), there is Scopus, My NCBI, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Mendeley, Microsoft, etc etc etc – the list is almost endless.  And yes I know you think ORCID will put an end to that list, but all of the other systems think the same thing, and that’s the point of that XKCD comic!

It used to be even worse – there used to be a bunch of websites that I also needed to keep my details on, live and up-to-date.  However, through good systems and hard work, I fixed that.  I have all of my data live and up-to-date in a brilliant system, I absolutely love it….and it’s not ORCID

Let me tell you about PURE

OK firstly PURE is brilliant.  Those of you who know me, I am not being sarcastic; you know how infrequently I compliment anything.  But I am happy to compliment PURE.  It is amazing, it does everything I need it to, and it does it really well.

I have used both PURE and ORCID and let me tell you – PURE makes ORCID look like a 5yr old’s summer project.  They are not even comparable, so I don’t know why I am trying.  Whilst PURE is a  Ferrari, ORCID is a push-bike with only one wheel and the chain is broken.

PURE is a research information management system sold by Elsevier, and it is the system chosen by my employer, the University of Edinburgh.  Because I work for them, the University is perfectly within their rights to expect me to keep my PURE record up to date, and I do so with pleasure.

PURE models perfectly the University, Schools, Organisational units within schools, projects and research outputs.  Crucially, these all have many-to-many relationships, which means that I can assign any research output to any number of projects, organisational units and/or shcools.  Also, projects and funding are kept separate (but related) – recognising that it is possible to have projects that do not relate to a particular grant, or which relate to many grants.  I can add press clippings, I can add generic activities, I can add datasets, awards, public engagement activities, book chapters, patents, conference proceedings, my thesis, and all sorts of other things, and I can link them and relate them to my projects, my funding and my school – seamlessly, online and easily.

Mostly the research outputs I record are papers, and here PURE excels – I can import from a number of online sources, and it works EVERY TIME and WITHOUT ERROR:


As you can see, amongst others, this means I can import from PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, CrossRef and ArXiv.  I can import anything with a DOI.  I can import anything with a pubmed ID.

When I import those records, PURE parses them seemlessly into authors, title, journal, abstract etc etc and all I need do is link the record to the relevant project, funding and school and I am done.  It works amazingly well and it takes no time at all.

When it comes to reporting time, PURE has the concept of report definitions and I can slice and dice my data anyway I see fit, by school, project, funding, date etc all through an amazingly intuitive interface.  I can then download the results in a number of formats; or I can simply choose to export all of my (or my project’s; or my school’s; or my funding’s…) publications as RIS (RefMan) or BibTex format.

Finally, the whole system has an API, which means it drives the Edinburgh Genomics publication list, it drives my Roslin publication list, and it drives Edinburgh Research Explorer.

It rocks.  PURE is really, really good and if your institution doesn’t have it, tell them to buy it, immediately

The nightmare that is ResearchFish

I hate ResearchFish.  Those of you who have been following my Twitter feed closely will remember!

However, ResearchFish is the chosen platform through which the vast majority of my funders want me to report the outcomes of the grants they give me.  Yep, the people who’ve given me millions of pounds of research and capital grants over the last few years want me to report my outputs in ResearchFish.  So of course I am going to.

The quick amonst you will point out that ResearchFish can import from ORCID; well, it’s stalemate I’m afraid, because we (as in Edinburgh) export our PURE records directly to ResearchFish, and this is carried out by others, meaning there is zero effort from me.  It just happens.  Of course, I need to edit the information once in there to make sure it is correct – but doubtless I would need to do the same if I went via ORCID.

Google Scholar

Like many academics, I have a Google Scholar profile, and whilst I dislike that it is not an open platform, I do like that it (generously) tracks citations, and I like that it seamlessly, almost magically, almost spookily, finds every single one of my publications a few days after it comes out, and asks politely if I would like to add it to my profile.  It is almost never wrong, but it sometimes is, so Google Scholar demands a bit of attention to keep it up to date.

Personal Records

Because I have always done it, I maintain an EndNote library with all of my papers (with PDFs) on network attached storage where I work.  It’s pretty easy to maintain, again with simple imports from PubMed and other locations.


So where does this leave ORCID?  In the wilderness I’m afraid.  At the moment, in my head it’s in the same place as ResearchGate, LinkedIn and other places – just another site where I need to remember my log in details, and try in vain to keep my records up to date.  I’d rather not.  I have a public profile of all of my grants, projects and research outputs in Edinburgh Research Explorer, driven by PURE.

Sure, if ORCID becomes a place my employer recognises and starts to use, or which my funders begin to use for reporting – then ORCID becomes a solution rather than a problem.  However, it is not there yet, and just because you really want it to be the standard for sharing academic profiles, it doesn’t mean that it is.

Good luck to ORCID – it would be truly immense if all institutions around the world, including employers and funders, adopted a single system to store academic relationships.  However, the chances of that happening are virtually zero, because institutions and funders want their data just so and may want to store private data alongside the public stuff.

There needs to be significant improvements in the features of ORCID too – better import systems, easier interfaces for keeping data up to date, and an API so that we can drive websites off the data therein.  If anyone from ORCID (or ResearchFish) wants me advice, then I’d tell them to take a look at PURE – it is near perfect.  Of course, with time and effort, perhaps ORCID could becomes as good as PURE – but then, why not just use PURE?




  1. Your opinion on ORCID is now my opinion on ORCID

  2. Mick, just one correction. Data is not routinely transferred from PURE to Researchfish, A limited set of publication data was tested earlier this year and this may be extended early in 2016 for Edinburgh as a trial. A far larger set of papers are drawn automatically from PubMed and WoS (where papers have included full funder and grant reference information) into Researchfish. It is important to emphasise that outside of any specific trial, funders will expect all outputs to be entered in Researchfish, not only publications, and all researchers will need to formally submit their Researchfish returns between 1st February and 10th March 2016. If manuscript submission processes captured funder and grant reference information in a standard way then there would be no requirement to add this information to University or funder systems, and this is an area that funders are actively exploring with publishers.

  3. Ian, thanks for the correction and the reply, I appreciate it!

    I really like the idea that the RC’s have decided on a single system; however, I have to tell you, ResearchFish is awful – many of my colleagues felt the same way. It’s a terrible system and needs a huge amount of improvement – I hope that will come!

    We always make sure to put our grant reference numbers into publications, so you should be able to rip these directly from PubMed and WoS. However, I really, really recommend you take data directly from PURE if possible – it is 100% correct for me, guaranteed.

    I hope funders are aware of the increasing administrative burden on scientists – and you don’t want us doing admin, you want us doing science. PURE was sold to us in Edinburgh as “you only need it enter it once, into PURE, and we will use the data for all reporting – to funders, REF etc”. We really need this to be the case in future.

  4. How much does PURE cost your institution, and have you heard of http://thecostofknowledge.com/? For our institution, as I understand it, membership in ORCID and access to the API would be a one-time fee of 5-10k. ORCID has 1.5 million registrants as of August 11, 2015. ORCID is fully integrated into the Nature journal workflow. Is PURE?

  5. Suggest looking at some presentations easily findable on the Web including Kiermer from Nature

    Proprietary solutions to disambiguation of author names (Reseacher ID) hasn’t worked.

  6. I agree, but will point out that the problem these tools are trying to solve may be less of a problem for you than for others in the field. If a woman changes her name when she gets married she will lose all of her pubs if someone looks her up on something like PubMed. And then comes the divorce and the remarriage and the next divorce, and then she is a single mother of two with enough on her plate to worry about without having pubs under three different names. Many of our Chinese colleagues are sunk by having common names as are the array of Carlos Bustamantes.

    LinkedIn, as awful as it is, is really the only place I usually keep my profile up to date because it comes up on google first and it is where people will look if they want someone for something.

  7. Unfortunately, one doesn’t always have the choice not to use ORCID. I applied for an HFSP fellowship recently, and was required to enter an ORCID ID. This means, I will now have to fill in my entire ORCID profile (with data I had already provided in my HFSP application, and which is also in my other online profiles). BTW, I think it’s useful to consider the purpose of these platforms, too. For example, LinkedIn seems to be the go-to platform for non-academic (eg industry, consulting) science jobs, and I know a lot of people who maintain their profile, because they’re considering quitting academic research.

  8. Nothing will make me hate a platform more than being forced to use it

  9. I don’t know and these are points worth considering. However my point is that when you come along with your nice new shiny solution (ORCID) don’t expect people who already have a good solution to fall over themselves to welcome you. I have a solution and it works, I don’t want to change.

    Also – ORCID claims to solve the author name problem, yet when I first signed up, it did a basic “Watson M [Author]” search to find my pubs and pulled in 1000s that weren’t mine. So it did the very thing it claimed to solve. That just made me angry. These platforms need to be competent.

  10. The thing I do like about ORCID is that it automatically finds grants from a wide variety of funders, even when I can’t remember the grant code… for that alone I am happy to use ORCID

  11. Open, community-driven, inter-operable solutions have many more advantages than closed, proprietary platforms. Open platforms or journals (those that are on the doaj.org) have business models that are congruent with the mission of public universities (and private ones). Please pay attention to the business model of the platform or journal, and in the case of journals, read and understand what the the copyright transfer statement before signing it and retain rights to your work, which you own until signing them away! http://libguides.utk.edu/veterinaryinformation/authorrightsretentionkit

  12. Mick,

    I agree, although PURE is sometimes nearly as slow as Researchfish. On RF, I appreciated “How not to design the user experience” and wished I had found it last year. Some of my MRC-funded colleagues apparently do like RF.

    In my case, PURE records were previously bulk-uploaded to BBSRC’s earlier ROS without my input (hurrah) before RCUK contracted out to Researchfish. The MRC apparently licensed to RF the e-Val survey methodology they had developed with ARC and early input from RAND Europe (http://www.rand.org/pubs/periodicals/health-quarterly/issues/v1/n4/15.html). Ian Viney was presumably close to that process.

    In the interests of communication, I joined RF’s ‘Research User Group’. They have only a small team, so at the most recent meeting they hadn’t yet coded suggestions made after last autumn’s large submission round.

    I understand that PURE has no write API but as you say its read processes work well. I haven’t seen a write API for RF either. Considerable effort might be required to align RF’s interests (ann viera’s point on open solutions below) sufficiently to allow communication. In that context, the funders have leverage over RF, not the research institutions or their staff.

    No serious funder would *want* to transfer their admin to their funded researchers but the funders’ office budgets are under severe pressure. Putting admin tasks into the research budget seems consistent with a laudable aim to keep up the headline research funding numbers.

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