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Publishing

ACS policy expansion enables name changes on previous publications

Inclusive policy was developed with input from trans scientists

by Linda Wang
September 16, 2020

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Credit: ACS Publications

Journal authors who want to change how their name appears on previous publications in American Chemical Society journals can now do so without any questions, thanks to an expanded policy by ACS Publications that will take effect in October.

The policy update is part of a broader effort by the society to foster more inclusivity for scientists, especially those in the trans community. “This is a crucial step toward equality that the scientific community can take together,” says James Milne, president of ACS Publications.

Reasons authors might want to update their name include gender transition, marriage, divorce, and religious conversion. “A lot of times you had to have permission from the other authors on the paper in order to make a change to the publication as an article correction,” says Michelle Nolan, chemical sciences librarian at the University of Florida who is among those who helped develop the expanded policy.

For trans scientists, that can be a significant invasion of privacy. “Giving the general public access not only to an author’s dead name, but also trans identity without their consent causes very real harm,” says Irving Rettig, a PhD candidate at Portland State University who petitioned ACS to update its policy and provided significant input from the trans community. “That is actively inhibiting the academic excellence of trans authors.”

Under the expanded policy, authors will not need to provide proof or documentation of their name change. And to protect authors’ privacy, no notice will be posted to the article, and editors and coauthors on the publication will not be notified. ACS will update all other references to the author’s identity, including their pronouns and salutations.

Many on Twitter applauded ACS’s decision and shared their own hurdles associated with changing their name. “When I got married I wanted to change my name (for my own unique reasons) but I knew it would be bad for my career,” wrote Nicola Bell, senior researcher and group coordinator at the University of Glasgow School of Chemistry, on Twitter. “So for the past 5 years I have used two names depending on the circumstances. This is a brilliant step forward to reflect the real lived experience of researchers.

Bell adds, “We still have a long way to go but breaking down each and every one of these small systemic barriers allows us to express more of ourselves, which means we can be role models for girls of the future who don’t want to have to choose between family life and a meaningful career.”

Aaron Jacobson, a graduate student at Texas A&M University who identifies as gender non-binary, says this policy update is long overdue. “You don’t have that reminder hanging over you; and something that should be celebrated, which is your body of work, isn’t coming back to haunt you,” Jacobson says. Additional changes they would like to see include the addition of pronouns next to author names. “It would be better representation for trans people and those who have alternative pronouns,” Jacobson says.

This policy is “giving power back to trans authors,” says Rettig. “Change is far from over, but this is an amazing step forward.”

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