Choose your new led Tess Tanenbaum to think about many questions. Am I Josie or Hanna? Should it sound like his old male name? What will it look like as a signature? She started walking around with a shortlist in her pocket. Ultimately, she chose Theresa Jean, or Tess, because her full name sounded like a pulp detective or superhero character, and was reminiscent of her daughter’s middle name, Tesla. On July 4, 2019, Tess came out as transgender, her own Independence Day.
But burying her old name wasn’t easy, especially when it came to the research she had published on game design and storytelling. In the spring of 2020, Tanenbaum gave his class at the University of California, Irvine, copies of some of his past work as well as an assignment. But a resourceful student used Google Scholar, the company’s service for searching academic literature, to find other posts, some of which contained her old name, or death name. The class was virtual and students shared their final work via a Discord server, and his old name was displayed in front of the whole class. There was no harmful intent, but Tanenbaum had an intense sense of having to hide. “I had this deep traumatic reaction, and it compromised my ability to assess the student,” she says.
Tanenbaum is one of many academics who have urged Google in recent years to give people more power over how their names appear on its service. She and other Google Scholar critics say it subjects trans scholars and researchers to the dead naming, unwelcome and even traumatic mention of a transgender person’s name before they transitioned. “Google Scholar remains an ongoing and active source of harm to anyone changing their name, especially transgender people,” Tanenbaum said.
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Google Scholar allows researchers to change their name as it appears on their profile page, where researchers organize a list of their publications, and will update author names on articles if an editor has made an update . But even if someone has changed their name on Google Scholar, search results may still show their previous name on articles where it hasn’t been updated. The company’s renaming policy puts Scholar out of step with major publishers, other academic search engines, and national laboratories. More than 60 publishers have a policy that gives transgender researchers the right to change their name on previously published work, including giants like Elsevier and Springer.
When scholar Robyn Speer began her transition and started asking for name updates in 2019, she found that sites like ResearchGate, Semantic Scholar and the Internet Archive’s scholarly search engine got rid of of its former name in a week. Reviews and conference proceedings can take months. But she’s still dead on Google Scholar, where citations of papers under her old name may show up in search results for her current name.
ConceptNet Search, a software project that helps computers understand the meaning of words that she has been working on since 2005, brings up results that include her former name. Some are from journals that are no longer active, which means Speer can’t ask the publisher to update his name.
“The changes we’re asking for would require Google to give authors control over their own information, and I think that’s just not in line with Google’s worldview,” Speer said. “In Google’s worldview, if the algorithms don’t agree with the people, then the algorithm is right and the people are wrong. »
In 2019, Speer’s complaints led to a bug report within Google flagging trans scholars’ issues with Google Scholar, according to several people familiar with the matter. In May this year, a Google employee reply to a tweet by Speer said the bug report remains open and listed as high priority.