Retroactive name changes in astronomical publications

If you’re active on Twitter astronomy, you’ve probably seen a lot of discussion lately about academic journal policies regarding retroactive change of publication names. The work and obstacles of the process can add a lot of difficulty to the academic life of transgender and non-binary researchers *. Many transgender people replace their birth name with a name that better matches their gender, but if they do so after posting a job, they can find themselves in a difficult situation. In some journals, publications may be retroactively corrected to show their chosen real / name. For other journals, people have the choice of revealing their death name and get out, or no longer claim some past work on their CV. Additionally, some Cisgender astronomers may change their names for reasons such as marriage or religion.

There are two parts to resolving the disconnection between posts with different names. First, it can be difficult to find all of a person’s past work by searching for their current name, if some publications still use their old name. But, even with this issue resolved, the issue of trans people leaving remains when their old name is visible. So the second part of the solution is to change the instances of their old name on old paper.

Some recent discussions were sparked by a series of tweets from Dr Elspeth Lee. His experiences caught the attention of many friends and allies, who have since pushed for change (more on that later).

Publication policies

the Publication ethics committee (COPE) is currently development of guidelines for author name changes after the article has been published. They have, however, already published an article edited by Professor Tess Tanenbaum on five guiding principles and best practices for the process:

  1. Accessibility: Name changes should not require legal documents or unnecessary work on the part of the requesting author.
  2. Completeness: The edit should remove all instances of the author’s previous name from the publisher’s records.
  3. Invisibility: The change should not draw attention to the change in the author’s name or gender identity.
  4. Timeliness and simplicity: The process should be quick and unbureaucratic.
  5. Recurrence and maintenance: Publishers should regularly check their documents to ensure that changed names are kept.

Professor Tanenbaum also wrote a item in Nature why it matters to her and other transgender astronomers.

Here are the policies of some major astronomy publishers and article hosts (as of June 10, 2021):

  • American Astronomical Society (AAS) Journals (Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, Letters from the Astrophysical Journal, Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, Planetary Scientific Journal, Research Notes) [IOP Publishing]: An author can fill out a form to request a name change, which does not require legal documentation or reason for the request (more info here).
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics (A&A) [EDP Sciences]: Currently, no post-publication name changes are allowed. Note: On June 4, 2021, A&A tweeted that its editors were in contact with the EDP board to change this.
  • Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) [Oxford University Press]: Currently, at the request of an author, he will update his name on the HTML version but not on the PDF. Note: They said on Twitter that they are working on a solution with OUP.
  • [Cornell University]: An author can request a name change through the User Support Portal or their help email. They will incorporate the name changes into the original LaTeX file and recompile the PDFs.
  • Astrophysical Data System (ADS) [Harvard]: An author can email them all of the names they’ve posted under, and ADS will store the names as synonyms, showing results for all names listed during a search. They also plan to follow COPE policies and change the names of authors whether or not the original publisher does.

For more information on other journals / editors, see this spreadsheet compiled by Dr Jost Migenda with help from the community to follow COPE principles.

Experiences of trans authors

At the 238 meeting of the AAS, the Committee for Sexual and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) met and discussed this issue. Jessica Mink from the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics presented the history and state of the problem, as well as her personal experiences. She admitted that it has been largely easier for her, as a senior developer of astronomical software, than for those just starting out in their careers and those in the workforce. She was able to update ADS very easily as she knew it personally and worked alongside the responsible person. All of his ADS work can now be found by searching for his current or previous name. ORCiD is another way to help bring the posts together, as each person is assigned a number that won’t need to change when the names do, but names are still used in quotes so it’s not a complete solution.

Jessica has made the personal decision not to change her name in previous posts because she is an activist and wants people to know that she is trans. Dr Anne Archibald made the transition to entering graduate school, but posted an article under her old name, limiting how secretive she can be about being transgender. She decided early on to assume that everyone knew she was transgender, and now that she has a teaching position, she decided to be a little more open, as it could make a difference for young astronomers. trans. Professor Jan Eldridge also changed his current name, but not that of older publications. She has been posting under her initials for some time (JJ), but plans to go back and update older journals, especially those with her old full name.

A common theme among my conversations with transgender astronomers is that they’ve been able to make strides in replacing their old name in a professional manner, but they haven’t been able to thoroughly update all the old papers. Adding the synonyms on ADS seems to be one of the earliest / easiest steps for them, but some posts do not change the names of earlier articles in any way. These policies need to be changed so that transgender people are safe and comfortable with collecting their past work.

What is being done to solve this problem?

In early June 2021, a community of astronomers came together to push for change in these outdated policies. One personal action that many astronomers have taken is of a kind of boycott, where they refuse to review or submit work to Astronomy & Astrophysics until they authorize the name changes. Coincidentally, one of those astronomers, Professor Caroline Morley, received a request for a review right at the start of these conversations and shared his response:

PhD student Emily Hunt led a group of astronomers in writing a open letter to the A&A Board of Directors, which anyone can to log in at. They had more than 700 signatures as of Wednesday morning June 9. At the SGMA meeting, members also shared that the editors of AAS journals and the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CWSA) working on letters to editors A&A and MNRAS. CWSA also shared a declaration on their Women In Astronomy blog.

Many astronomers who have brought their experiences to this work have pointed out how much it took a great allied and collaborative effort to work on improving policies. One easy thing allies can do to help is have conversations with editors and colleagues to help them understand the problem and why it is important. In addition to the professional concerns of papers under multiple names, Professor Jan Eldridge pointed out that “just by recognizing a new name of a person that changes it, it reaffirms its identity. Beyond all other things, this is a really easy way to accept and support a trans person.

* I have used the word ‘transgender’ throughout the article to describe people who have changed their names due to their gender identity, but it’s important to note that not all non-binary people identify with themselves not as transgender, and that not all transgender and non-binary people change. their names.

Edited by Alex Gough, Lili Alderson, Luna Zagorac

Cover image credit: Laurie Raye

About Macy Huston

I am a third year student at Pennsylvania State University studying astronomy and astrophysics. My current work focuses on technosignatures, also known as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). I am generally interested in research on exoplanets and adjacent exoplanets. In the past, I have researched the planetary microlens and the formation of low mass stars and brown dwarfs.

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