Monday, September 11, 2006

Playing the name game

Tonight, I bring you the tale of two papers. The first paper, Zr budgets for metamorphic reactions, and the formation of zircon from garnet breakdown, is by H. Degeling, S. Eggins, and D. J. Ellis. The second paper, In situ U–Pb dating of zircon formed from retrograde garnet breakdown during decompression in Rogaland, SW Norway, is by H. S. Tomkins, I. S. Williams, and D. J. Ellis. Aside from the third author (and really, who cares about third authors?), the subject matter, the methodology, the samples, and the overall geologic framework, these two papers have something else in common. Something rather important, that neither Web of Science nor Google Scholar can discern (I also tried Georef, but it crashed my work comp, and I don’t have a home subscription).

Both papers are written by the same first author, who for the purposes of this blog will referred to as either Dr. Tomkins, or Helen*. As you might be able to surmise from the publication dates, Helen got married in 2003 +/-2 AD (1 permil precision is good enough for geochronologists), and changed her name. But as far as the system is concerned, she is no longer the same person. And neither index seems to list both of her papers as being written by the same person. Why is this?

I offer three hypotheses:

1. Computers are stupid, and a single person with more than one name is more than they can handle.
2. Married women aren’t worth listing because...
2a. Once they’re hitched, women have no future in scientific research.
2b. Real, hard-core science chicks are all feminist zealots who would never consider a name change.
3. The scientific indices are run by a bunch of lazy dumbasses.

Test of hypothesis 1:
Go to, a large on-line database. Search for “Jamie-Lynn Siegler”. Then try “Jamie-Lynn DaScala”. If television database is smart enough to recognize that both names refer to the actress who plays Tony’s daughter in The Sopranos, is it really too much to ask for a scientific database to display the same level of competence? After all, the Web of Science certainly charges more for subscriptions.

Test of Hypothesis 2:
Consider the career of Marie Sklodowska. Married at the age of 28, she took her husband’s name, and first published under it three years later, with “Rayons emis par les composes de l'uranium et du thorium”. Over the next 37 years, she added to her scientific credentials with
-The discovery of polonium and radium.
-The Nobel Prize for physics, in 1903
-The Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1903
-The Nobel Prize for chemistry, in 1911
All in all, Marie Curie didn’t do too badly.

Test of hypothesis 3:
The best way to test this is to see how long it takes the various indices to get their acts together.

Now, I’m a rogue, not a feminist, so I ain’t gonna campaign for any sort of systemic change. I will simply offer two bits of advice to Dr. Tomkins:
1. If future editors ask you for the name of a referee for future papers, why not suggest Dr. Degeling?
2. Make sure you reference her work many times, as the citation indices probably think you two are independent researchers.

* ‘cause that’s her name.


Anonymous said...

i pick answer 3.

i went with hypenating, which also seems to confuse google scholar.

kind of randomly related funny story, my uncle and my grandpa have the same first initals, (and obviously the same last name), and my uncle went into the same field as my grandpa. i wonder if job search commities were every really impressed by the number of papers he had even as a young researcher?

C W Magee said...

The thing about IMDB is that before Amazon bought it, it was originaly an informal system that had all the information and links that film buffs thought would be useful. What we really need is a similar fan base for the physical sciences. Otherwise, we'll be stuck paying outrageous prices for database software with minimal utility. So all you geo-stalkers out there, stop trying to snap pictures of my rocks. Instead, use your time to create an Internet Geology DataBase.

Alex Villepique said...

Actually I'm getting married and I'm now bumped into this issue. I would love to take my future husband name, but in essence that will simply take away from me almost 30 publications. And I'm at the beginning of the career, in essence.
Also, I think it is a form of sexism expecting from woman to do as man does if she wishes to continue scientific career.

Dr. Lemming said...

Hang on, if you have 30 publications, you aren't at the beginning of your career. You ought to be ready to apply for tenure an all but the most picky of institutions.

Anonymous said...

This is an issue with which I am currently dealing. I just got tenure this Spring and will be getting married in October. After a lot of kicking and screaming, I have decided to take my husband-to-be's name because I was confused with the publication issue. I love my last name but it has an apostrophe that complicates everything so I would not mind changing it but I don't want to lose everything I have already done under my name. I do like the 3rd hypothesis though...