Transgender astronomers speak out against outdated name change policies


An open letter to a scientific journal sparked a conversation about diversity, inclusion and safety in the astronomical community.

When scientists publish their work in a journal, they do so under their name. However, people change their names later for a number of reasons, and there are still policies in place in some journals that prohibit authors from changing or correcting the names they have listed in previous publications. This could lead to confusion or career difficulties for some, but for transgender scientists it could cause very serious security concerns.

In June, a working group of scientists organized by astronomer Emily Hunt, doctoral student. student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, wrote an open letter to the board of directors of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A). The letter followed an incident in which the newspaper explicitly denied a request for a name change from a transgender astronomer, citing the publication’s policy, and this open letter addressed that denial and scientists’ concerns about such policies. Since the publication of the open letter, A&A has decided to change its policy.

You can read the open letter where it was posted by Hunt on Twitter. As of June 13, in just days, the letter had reached more than 900 signatures, Hunt said. on Twitter.

Related: Non-binary astronomers need more support for their field, study finds

People change their names for a multitude of reasons, such as after getting married and deciding to change their last name. However, as the authors of the open letter point out, restrictive name updating policies in scientific journals can have far worse consequences for trans scientists who change their names and must correct their previous names, or “dead names.” “, in previous publications.

This open letter, which specifically called for a policy change at A&A, argued that these policies should not only be changed to allow retroactive name corrections, but also that the process should be kept confidential to ensure the safety and anonymity of the author.

“If an article has your old name, then every time you try to promote your research you have to get away with it, and that wouldn’t be a very pleasant thing to go through,” Hunt told Space. com. Hunt added that there may also be an additional danger “when people go to do science in countries that are less tolerant or have collaborators from countries that are less tolerant.”

“Refusal of requests to update names on manuscripts causes major and unnecessary hardship for trans academics,” the open letter read. “They can either decide not to list work published under an old name in their CV, which prevents them from receiving full credit for their past work and may limit their career progression. It also affects the accuracy of the record. scientific, because it divorces the works of their authors. “

However, in addition to detailing how these policies can interfere with the professional careers of scientists, the letter also shows how this could significantly endanger these authors.

Related: Women of Color in Astronomy face a greater degree of discrimination, harassment

“If trans academics decide to include works published under a previous name, that will forcibly ‘exclude’ them as trans. This would put them at risk of discrimination or harassment, especially in places where legal protections are limited or non-existent for trans people, ”he added. the letter reads.

The letter cites several published reports that stress the importance of allowing authors to change or correct their names on previous publications. The letter also references an article on Nature by Tess Tanenbaum, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Irvine, which focuses on the problem.

While “a lot of journals have name change policies in place,” said Hunt, “a lot have not.” She added that authors who requested updates to their names on previous posts were not only turned down, but even received harsh or negative responses.

Slowly, however, some publications are changing their name update policies.

“Last year many journals around the world in so many different scientific fields started to change their policies,” Hunt said.

The Publishing Ethics Committee (COPE) has even expressed support for name updating policies for transgender authors and is working on developing guidelines for publications, the letter quotes. The policies have so far been changed in publications such as the journals AAS, Science, IOP Publishing, Wiley and Elsevier. Those policies are being changed in places such as the Royal Astronomical Society’s (MNRAS) monthly notices and nature astronomy, according to the letter.

A&A, whose publisher (EDP Sciences) is a member of COPE, has decided to modify its policy following the publication of the open letter.

“I’m happy to report to you, ahead of the official release, that the A&A Board of Directors approved a few days ago that the release policy will be updated to support retroactive name changes. , A&A expresses its commitment to respect the rights and identities of authors, reducing or removing obstacles to inclusion and credit for authors ”, declared on June 28 André Moitinho de Almeida, Chairman of the Board of Directors of astronomy and astrophysics, at the awards ceremony of the annual meeting of the European Astronomical Society. This change is expected to take place early next week, an A&A representative told Space .com.

Small changes like this are certainly a step forward but remain a symptom of a larger problem in the scientific community, Hunt said. “Not everyone in science is just a straight, cisgender white male; there’s actually a wide range of people. And we also want to have an even wider range of people, because that makes us stronger, and it’s just fairer, and a better way of doing things, ”she said.

However, she added, in some reviews, “I don’t think anyone probably stopped and looked and thought, ‘OK, what training do we have in place? Do we have a diverse group of publishers? Do we have diverse people on our board? … Does everyone have a good understanding of equality issues? ‘”

Hunt said she hopes journals won’t just stop changing those name update policies, but also “look at how they can prevent this from happening in the future” and how to be better ” aware ”of diversity issues. and inclusion. Although she points to these policy updates as something relatively easy to resolve for these journals, “there are many larger issues in astronomy and in academia as a whole that are much more difficult to resolve.” , especially for people from ethnic minority groups. and who are part of the LBGTQ + community.

Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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