Scientific journals ‘pretty close’ to ideal system for transgender name changes

In the past, trans researchers would either have to put up with their former names appearing on papers they had authored, or prove their identity.

Policy changes led by the RSC mean author names can be changed in its journals without them being published as corrections (Tanja Junkers/PA)
Policy changes led by the RSC mean author names can be changed in its journals without them being published as corrections (Tanja Junkers/PA)

Scientific journals are “pretty close” to an ideal system that allows transgender people to change their names in past publications without the trauma of having to come out each time, an academic has said.

In the past, trans researchers would either have to put up with their former names appearing on papers they had authored, or prove their identity in order to see their names printed as corrections next to a name they no longer used – their deadname.

Tanja Junkers, an associate editor of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) journal Chemical Science, who is transgender, told the PA news agency scientists had left the profession because of the issue.

She explained that when she came out about five years ago, she thought trying to change her name on publications that used her deadname was “futile”.

And I'm really, really glad that people who come out now do not have to struggle any more because they are able to retroactively change

Professor Tanja Junkers

For her, the difficulties even influenced the name she eventually chose as she tried to limit the damage to her career.

But now policy changes led by the RSC mean author names can be changed in its journals without them being published as corrections, and without the need for the academic to prove their identity.

They can also be changed without the former name appearing on the paper, meaning scientists no longer have to explain to students and colleagues why there are two names.

Prof Junkers told the PA news agency: “I don’t even want to completely erase it (former name), but just hearing it actually is painful.

“At first I thought it doesn’t bother me too much.

“I think I only realised how much it really bothered me four years ago when I moved to Australia, and we had this thing where we started to put up our latest papers on a pinboard for the students to read.

“And then one of my students came to me and said ‘you actually realise that half of the papers have your old name on them?’.

“That’s coming out to the students every time. And that was something I hadn’t thought about before because at my old institution everybody knew.”

She added: “I’m open about being trans but that doesn’t mean I want to tell everybody my story.

“And that’s exactly what’s traumatic for me because I haven’t been a different person before.

“I am the same person. I mean, there’s always the odd exception, but you can pretty much generalise that most trans people do not even wish to hear their own deadname.

“I think we are pretty close to an ideal system in terms of general publishing because you can just do it now and self declaration or self identifying is good enough, which is  absolutely great.

“I think it’s also reasonably easy – at least the RSC journals.”

The polymer chemist said she knew of people who had left the profession over how difficult it was to change their names in past publications.

She told PA: “They were not able to change it and they just didn’t want to have any association to the old name and the only way of doing that was to change profession.”

When applying for research funding, for example, institutions ask for a list of publications.

She said: “That’s why I learned to accept it back then because I knew erasing my old publications would have meant starting from scratch.”

There are also databases where people look up publications, but these use initials – which often change with a change of name, but the academic decided to keep the same letters for the sake of her career.

Prof Junkers said: “For me, it was like I could have done it, but it was very clear ‘if I want to do damage control, I need to keep my initial’.

“I’m very open about that. That actually was one of the major reasons for the choice of my name.

“And I’m really, really glad that people who come out now do not have to struggle any more because they are able to retroactively change.”

The author name change policy, which was announced by the RSC in December 2020, has been adopted by all 48 of the society’s journals.

It came about after an editorial board member thought the RSC might be willing to be one of the first publishers to develop a policy on name changes based on some of its work on inclusion and diversity.

More than half of the world’s academic journals have joined the RSC’s Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing pledge and are taking steps to eliminate bias at every stage of publishing scientific research.

Dr Helen Pain, chief executive of the RSC, told PA: “There’s plenty of evidence that shows diversity leads to better science, better business decisions, better outcomes.”

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