Embracing change to support inclusive scholarship

Springer Nature Group
By: Ed Gerstner, Wed Jun 30 2021
Ed Gerstner

Author: Ed Gerstner

Director Research Environment Alliance, Springer Nature

Although the publishing industry has made many important and welcome commitments to help foster a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment, there is much to do. As publishers we not only have a duty to protect the integrity of the scientific and published record, we also have a much wider responsibility to the research community as a whole, and where there is friction between policy and people, people must always come first.

Trans researchers who have transitioned and changed their name have had no clear, standardised or simple way of changing the name used on previous publications to match their identity. The process for changing an author’s name on their previous published works has typically involved publishing a separate formal correction linked to the original work. In many cases, this didn’t actually correct the original work. 

As a result, many trans authors are caught between losing their publication record and being involuntarily ‘outed’, without permission, whenever their previous publications needed listing.  This has had the potentially dangerous effect of ‘flagging’ the name changes of transgender scholars, putting them at very real risk of discrimination or physical and emotional harm ― a fact most powerfully expressed by Tess Tanenbaum in her World View piece published in Nature last year. Protecting authors from that harm takes priority over preserving the immutability of the original publication of record.  

The ask from the community has been clear ― to allow researchers to correct their names on previous publications and connect all publications to their academic record, and to support the need to protect the rights of the researchers to privacy. This is the principle that has guided the development and the specifics of our name change policy. Working with the community and our internal Diversity Equity and Inclusion networks (DE&I) including SN Pride, we are now very pleased to introduce our policy to allow transgender and non-binary authors to correct their names on all of their published works with Springer Nature.

Scope of our policy

Listening to the community to better understand their experiences of trying to have names corrected on their publications, and what they need from publishers, the policy has focused on transgender scholars, owing to the specific risks that they face.  But, of course, there are other reasons why an author may wish to change their name.

Instances where a scholar changes their name because of family estrangement, domestic abuse, divorce, or any case in which the the continued use of a person's previous name could cause discrimination or physical and emotional harm can now be addressed through this policy. 

Most of our initial discussions of the policy focused on names.  But it soon became clear that we needed to think about much more ― such as the need to correct the pronouns and similar in the author biographies, and profile photos, that are contained in many books and journal articles. Then there is the question of citations in one work to an author’s other works that were also being corrected. Or references to a corrected chapter in a book from chapters in the same books authored by different sets of authors. These too are incorporated into the policy.

Working together for change

Ensuring a diverse, equitable and inclusive approach is one of the highest priorities at Springer Nature, and we continue to work collectively with our community to best address this and take decisive action. It is reflected in the public commitments we’ve made and the company values that guide our actions. Ensuring our authors feel protected, supported and are given full credit for their contribution to the academic record is paramount.

This policy is an important step towards supporting the needs of our authors. But there is more that we need to do. 

The next challenge we have to face ― as an industry ― is how we handle citations to corrected works throughout the literature, past, present and future. The technical challenges to this are considerable, mostly owing to the fact that the way we render references is based on printing them on paper.  As we continue to move from print to digital, making content more dynamic, these barriers to correcting the academic record swiftly, efficiently and everywhere should begin to reduce. Collectively as individuals and as a sector, if we continue to work collaboratively, in consultation with the needs of our community, we can take decisive action to ensure that research is truly inclusive for all.

Ed Gerstner

Author: Ed Gerstner

Director Research Environment Alliance, Springer Nature

Ed Gerstner is Director Research Environment Alliance where he is  responsible for building alliances with research institutions and community organizations who are working to improve the way research is done through initiatives that contribute to better research ethics, rigour and integrity, more effective and fairer research assessment, greater academic diversity, equity and inclusion, support for those working in interdisciplinary research, international collaborations, and those seeking solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Prior to this he led a team responsible for the development and implementation of editorial policy and publishing strategy across the entire Springer Nature journal portfolio, and for overseeing Springer Nature’s involvement in publishing initiatives such as the use of blockchain for peer review, ORCID, Publons and similar. 

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