Google Scholar has failed us.
Google Scholar is built around a trans-exclusionary and sexist design that assumes people never change names. This is particularly harmful to trans authors.
We need Google to change this, and we need everyone else to stop using Google Scholar until they do.
What’s wrong with Google Scholar?
While it is possible to update your name and references on your profile page, these changes have no effect on Google Scholar search results.
Google Scholar frequently requires that you deadname a trans author to give any relevant results for them. Even after an author creates a profile page with their correct name, searching for that name does not yield their papers as search results.
Google Scholar is incompatible with policies and processes that publishers have created to allow authors to change names.
When an author updates their paper in a published repository, the paper and correct citations of it will be missing from search results or ranked unreasonably low for a while.
Google Scholar provides citations (in BibTeX and other formats) that are outdated and contain an author’s deadname, even when the paper has been updated. Authors who believe the information on Google Scholar end up citing trans authors in ways that harm them.
Google Scholar can be convinced to update its belief about your name, but it is a very lengthy process that seems to require getting a majority of people to cite you by your correct name and then waiting several months. This is an unreasonable burden, and is unattainable by many authors.
Google is the most influential organization in scientific publishing to not enter a partnership affirming the ability of trans authors to change their names.
Why is this so important?
Deadnaming is hate speech. It violates the code of conduct of many communities and creates a hostile work environment.
Deadnaming – deliberately calling a trans person by their deadname – is done to trans people by their transphobic harassers to deny their ability to transition. Sadly, it is also done by bureaucracies and corporations, but this does not make it right.
Scholar’s combination of deadnaming and burying relevant search results, over a long period of time, denies the ability of transgender authors to participate in research the way they would if they were cisgender (the opposite of transgender).
The correct way to refer to a trans author is by their chosen name. Google Scholar is very regressive compared to other research repositories on this issue.
Many trans authors consider it easier to change careers than to change their name within academia, and Google Scholar is the most prominent reason for this.
This issue can affect other authors as well. Many people change names, for many reasons. The unrealistic assumption that people don’t change names reflects that the system was largely designed by and for cis men.
For instance, people who get married or divorced are often pressured to not change their last name to maintain a publication record, regardless of the immense personal significance of such life events. A better process for trans authors to change their names also eliminates the need for such uncomfortable compromises.
But I’ve heard Google is a great place for trans employees! Surely they’re working on it.
In 2019, the Google Scholar team responded to an employee who raised the issue internally: “We don’t support name changes.”
Google seems to see their affirmation of trans rights as a perk that they offer to their highest-paid employees. It took a campaign by the Alphabet Workers’ Union to get them to #DropTheDeadnames for their numerous temporary, vendor, and contract workers.
Non-employees, such as most trans researchers, are of course at the mercy of their product decisions.
Google employees are losing control of the ethics of their products. In 2019, five employee activists (three of whom were trans) were fired for their activism. In 2020, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, who among their many accomplishments had advocated internally for proper representation of trans authors in Google Scholar, were fired by Jeff Dean for their ethics research.
If Google is working on this now, they haven’t communicated anything about it, and they must have assigned it a very low priority. We need them to talk to the trans community and understand the urgency of the problem.
Google Scholar is not accurate anyway
A few folks in Queer in AI have found that many incorrect citations in machine learning and NLP publications arise due to the use of Google Scholar. Those problems include deadnaming, dropping many authors from the author list, incorrect last names, outdated author placements and so on. Queer in AI will be publishing a report about this soon.
Editors should demand more responsible citation practices than simply Googling and pasting in the first thing you get.
We demand that Google fully support the ability for trans authors to change their names, in accordance with the Committee on Publication Ethics’ principles on name changes.
Google must allow authors to claim their papers, and use that information in organic search results.
If an author wishes to change their name and deprecate their old name, Google must update their displayed name in all search results for and references to those papers.
Google must allow authors to report erroneous, harmful results about them, and empower an actual person to act on these reports.
Google must document this process so that authors who change their name in the future can more easily follow it.
Because legal name changes are difficult, expensive, and in some places impossible, Google must not require legal documentation of name changes.
Google has ignored these issues for years. Until Google takes these steps, we cannot recommend the use of Google Scholar. It is a trans-exclusionary site that harms the ability of trans authors to succeed in their careers.
What can I do?
- Instead of Google Scholar, use alternatives such as Semantic Scholar, and recommend that others do as well.
- Share this petition so that it gets more attention and acquires more signatures from authors.
- Sign this petition by opening a GitHub pull request to add your name, or by e-mailing Robyn Speer (rspeer @ arborelia.net) with the subject “Google Scholar petition” and the information you would like added.
You do not necessarily need to be trans, or an academic, to sign and show your support.
Feel free to list an affiliation with an institution, organization, or company, but this is also optional. Some signers have chosen to include their status as students, which is also optional.
- Pranav A (Queer in AI)
- Mason Acevedo (Harvey Mudd College)
- Thomas M. Adams (John Innes Centre, UK)
- Emily A. Aery Jones (Stanford University)
- William Agnew (University of Washington, Queer in AI)
- Sam Ahmed (Leiden University)
- Jonathan Aldrich (Carnegie Mellon University)
- Ali Alkhatib (Center for Applied Data Ethics, University of San Francisco)
- Verity Allan (University of Cambridge)
- Mikio Akagi (Texas Christian University)
- Delan Azabani (Curtin University graduate)
- Fatoumata Bah (University of Ottawa)
- Anna Barth (Cornell University)
- Nick Barts (University of Pittsburgh)
- Adrian Bauer
- Marisol N. Beck
- Emily M. Bender (University of Washington)
- Alix Bird (Ph.D. Candidate, Australian Institute of Machine Learning, The University of Adelaide)
- Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University)
- Jacob Boerma
- Griffin Boyce (Google)
- Christian Brickhouse (Stanford University)
- Ozan Caglayan (Imperial College London)
- Alfredo Carpineti (Pride in STEM)
- Tiffany Chan (University of Victoria Libraries)
- Javier Chiyah-Garcia (Ph.D. Candidate, Heriot-Watt University)
- Tee Chuanromanee (University of Notre Dame)
- Henry M. Clever (Georgia Institute of Technology)
- Suzanne Coomer (Rush University Medical Center)
- Ryan Cotterell (ETH Zürich / University of Cambridge)
- Joaco De Entrambasaguas (Ph.D. Candidate, Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain)
- Miryam de Lhoneux (Uppsala University / KU Leuven / University of Copenhagen)
- Aniello De Santo (University of Utah)
- Anna Disney (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney)
- Becca Doherty (John Innes Center)
- Jana Dunfield (Queen’s University)
- Charles Earl (Black in AI)
- Liam Egan (The Sainsbury Laboratory)
- Michael Ensly
- Claire Elek (Ph.D. candidate, Quadram Institute/University of East Anglia, UK)
- Sarah Faber (University of Toronto, Baycrest Health Sciences Centre)
- Vasundhara Gautam
- Kaija Gahm (PhD Student, UCLA)
- Lauren Gawne (La Trobe University)
- Rebecca Gelernter
- Pranav Goel (University of Maryland)
- Kate Grandprey-Shores
- Loïc Grobol (Université Paris Nanterre)
- Donald Guy
- Jacob Hamilton (John Innes Centre, UK)
- Alfredo Hernandez
- Sibylle Hess (TU Eindhoven)
- Matthew Honnibal (Explosion.ai)
- Aoife Hughes (John Innes Center)
- Sophie Huiberts (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica)
- Emma C. Humphries
- Lilian Hunt (EDIS, Wellcome Trust)
- Valentin Iovene (Ph.D. Candidate, Inria, France)
- Cassandra Jacobs (University at Buffalo)
- Kris Joseph (York University)
- Paul Kaefer, M.S.
- Ben Kaiser (Princeton University)
- Brian Keegan (University of Colorado Boulder)
- M. Alex Kelly (Carleton University)
- Megan Kennedy
- Vijay Keswani
- Ahmed Khaled (Princeton University)
- Christine Kim (University of California, Los Angeles)
- Mara Kirdani-Ryan (University of Washington, Seattle)
- Lukas Daniel Klausner (St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences)
- Harris Kornstein (University of Arizona)
- Megh Krishnaswamy (University of Arizona)
- Ruth Kristianingsih (Ph.D. student at John Innes Centre, UK)
- Morag Lewis (King’s College London)
- Daniel Lowd (University of Oregon)
- Alexandra Sasha Luccioni (Universite de Montreal/Mila)
- Ártemis López (Ph.D. Candidate, Universidade de Vigo)
- Emma Manning (Georgetown University)
- Katie Marshall (University of British Columbia)
- Sarah Masud (Ph.D. Student)
- Paul O’Leary McCann (Explosion.ai)
- Allison McDonald (University of Michigan)
- Kara McShane (Ursinus College)
- Julia Colleen Miller (The Australian National University)
- Lesley Milnes (The Sainsbury Laboratory)
- Caleb Moses (Aotearoa Māori, Ngāpuhi tribe; Cook Island Māori, Aitutaki)
- Anoush Najarian (Software Engineering Manager, CMG Board chair, GHC AI co-chair, previous: NeurIPS meetup co-chair, ICML virtual co-chair)
- Jeffrey Negrea (Ph.D. Candidate, University of Toronto)
- Charlie Negri
- Mark Neumann (AI2)
- Luke Oakden-Rayner (University of Adelaide, Australia)
- Sylvia van Os
- Juan Pajaro Velasquez (Youth Observatory ISOC and Queer in AI)
- Neal Patwari (Washington University in Saint Louis)
- James Peniston (Florida State University)
- Nicole Peterson (UNC Charlotte)
- Jamie Price
- Maya Raman (University of California, Los Angeles)
- Gabor Recski
- Avi Rappoport
- Anna Ritz (Reed College)
- J. Rosenbaum (RMIT University)
- Andreana Rosnik
- Georgie Rowe (University of Birmingham, UK)
- Nick Ruest (York University)
- Ashwin S (Queer in AI)
- Mrinmaya Sachan (ETH Zurich)
- Luca Salerno (Ph.D.; co-chair, City of Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission)
- John Samuel
- Eddie Antonio Santos (University College Dublin)
- Michael Schlichtkrull (University of Cambridge)
- Janelle Shane
- Ashutosh Shankar (PhD student)
- Luca Soldaini (Queer in AI)
- Robyn Speer (ConceptNet)
- Katta Spiel
- Blake Stacey (University of Massachusetts Boston)
- Francesca L. Stefanato (John Innes Centre)
- Evan Sterling (University of Ottawa)
- Abram Stern (UC Santa Cruz)
- Catherine Stinson (Queen’s University)
- Arjun Subramonian (University of California, Los Angeles and Queer in AI)
- Danica J. Sutherland (University of British Columbia and Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute)
- Zeerak Talat (University of Sheffield and the Digital Democracies Institute, Simon Fraser University)
- Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (University of California Irvine)
- Alex Temple (Arizona State University)
- Silas Triller (University of Exeter MSc graduate; Quadram Institute technician)
- Alexandra Torresquintero
- Z Toups (New Mexico State University)
- priya v. (Yale University, Foothill College)
- Melissa Valen
- Sam Vente
- Matthew Wang
- Kestrel Ward (MLIS student, Florida State University; employed, University of Florida)
- Nif Ward
- B.M. Watson (University of British Columbia; American Psychological Association Consensual Non-monogamy Committee)
- Piper Langer Weida (Harvey Mudd College)
- Christina Wilmot (Xoogler, Ph.D. student at UCLA)
- avery wrenne
- Marilee Zafaripour (University of Oregon)
- Sam Zlotnik (University of Florida)
- Vaughn Zrain (Ph.D. student)