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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?

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.

Our demands

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 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?

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.