- A new project called THOR (Technical and Human Infrastructure for Open Research) aims to improve access to both research materials and personnel by linking researchers, their research outputs, and related information through persistent identifiers.
- THOR has the potential to make research more easily navigable and traceable.
Modern research is big: Less and less do we live in a world where research is conducted by lone academics secluded in the library or laboratory. Much research is now carried out on a scale far in excess of anything seen before — often by institutions with thousands of academics. In fact, in the US and the UK, nearly eight people in every thousand of the national workforce are employed as full-time researchers. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that some researchers share the same name, and valuable research can get lost in the sea of papers.
How then can we distinguish between researchers? And how can we keep tabs on all the findings being made? Conventionally this has been done by means of academic reference systems, and more recently by using digital object identifiers (DOIs). Now, the THOR project, which is funded by the European Commission under its Horizon 2020 funding program, is set to address this issue.
THOR, which is led by the British Library, is the successor to an earlier project called ODIN. Both ODIN and THOR rely on using persistent identifiers — numerical codes attached to digital objects as labels that will not change over time. The purpose is to get a range of different persistent identifiers to link together. ODIN’s goal was to expand upon the success of ventures by two organizations, called ORCID and DataCite. ORCID is a scheme to attach unique identifiers to individuals, which can be used to link authors to their research outputs. In a similar way, DataCite assigns identifiers to datasets.
“Our aim is to make research findable and citable; we want research to be trackable,” says Robin Dasler of the Scientific Information Service at CERN, which is one of the ten partners in the project consortium. “It’s about discoverability: if all the parts of the research process are linked together it is easier to follow the process back like a trail.”
THOR is also building upon ODIN, developing the project in three major ways: the ‘technical’ branch of THOR is continuing to design services and strengthen the links between these types of identifiers in the many scientific resources that use them, the ‘human’ branch is working on outreach and training schemes, and the 'sustainability' branch is working on evaluating the impact of the system and ensuring its continued use. “We want to design it so these services have a life after this project,” explains Dasler.
In each of these three regards, THOR has made headway. The THOR team has taken part in a number of community events in recent months, and has also launched the THOR Ambassador Programme, designed to help promote the use of the service. To make progress towards the project’s sustainability, the team has been working on the metrics dashboard — “a one-stop shop for tracking the increased interoperability of persistent identifiers over time and for making the efforts and outputs of THOR public.” In addition, THOR has contributed to a comparison of the standards of metadata (data about data) that is used by ORCID and DataCite to identify major differences in the systems. Last August, THOR also launched one of its first services, the DataCite Labs Search, which allows DataCite users to add their datasets to their ORCID profiles.
The academic world can certainly benefit from the system created by THOR. From a practical perspective, the ability to clearly link articles, datasets, and authors is a boon for researchers. It will help ensure that everybody involved in a research endeavor receives appropriate credit.
The accessibility and transparency created by THOR will also be advantageous in terms of accountability, helping publicly funded research become more easily accessible. In addition, THOR’s work has the potential to help improve reproducibility of research.