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Oblivion — If you are a researcher at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) and get fired, retire, or die, you also wave goodbye to your profile on the website.
“404 not found”.
This is the text that greets you if you click onto a deceased UCPH scientist’s profile. Or attempt to do so, because the profile no longer exists.
This applies not only to the job title and the contact information, but also to the description of the research areas and the list of publications which have accumulated over the years and which were organised in chronological order on the profile.
And this is not the only example. In fact, the same happens to all university researchers who retire without emeritus status, who are fired, or who die. They disappear from the website.
Claus Emmeche, who is associate professor at Department of Science Education, is still employed at the University of Copenhagen and still has his profile in good order. But he says that it is “silly” that the university does not maintain the researcher profiles.
“Researchers are constantly being encouraged to make their own research visible, and the personal pages on the university website are one of the places where you can present your own research. A number of researchers use this as an opportunity. It is therefore a paradox that they automatically shut down all the pages when researchers are not here any more,” he says, adding that several researchers also upload their scientific work on their profiles and thereby offer a way around the major publishers’ paywalls.
Emmeche works on the history of science and is therefore often interested in individual researchers’ contributions to a field. Even those who no longer contribute. He believes, therefore, that the profiles are a good resource.
The old science is not as interesting as the new. You do your research, and the next person takes it further, and that is it. So I see no great drama in some things being put down into the basement
As an example of a better solution, he mentions the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) system where the profiles are just prefixed with a ‘formerly’ in brackets when the scientists leaves the university.
“The university has an obligation to not only focus on current issues, but also the historic ones. I think that there is an inclination towards current events that is amplified by this issue, because it’s difficult to dig back into the university’s website,” says Claus Emmeche.
The University Post has spoken to a number of associate professors and professors who have previously been affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, but who have since either retired or been given a new position. None of them have give much thought to their deleted profiles.
Benny Lautrup, former professor of theoretical physics at the Niels Bohr Institute, for example, points out that the profiles quickly become obsolete.
“They could of course keep the profiles, and it would probably be fun for your descendants to look at. But science changes rapidly, and the old science is not as interesting as the new. You do your research, and the next person takes it further, and that is it. So I see no great drama in some things being put down into the basement
The University of Copenhagen, however, acknowledges the problem.
Why not keep together all the web pages that are outdated? You could call it the archive
Claus Emmeche, associate professor, Department of Science Education
Administrative officer Svend Kragballe from the Department for Research & Innovation says that it is still possible to search for the researchers’ articles by typing their name in the search engine under the tab ‘search for publications’ – where you can also get access to any preprints. But he agrees with Claus Emmeche that the researcher search system needs an overhaul.
And it’s actually underway. CURIS, the supplier of the content to the profiles, is on its way out of its agreement with UCPH, and the university is using the opportunity to create a new portal. So Kragballe and his colleagues are to reconsider whether profiles are to be discarded once the scientists leave the university.
“We need to look at whether we should show the former researcher’s profiles or only some of them, and whether we can pool their publications in a manner that is more easily accessible. This is something we are going to bring up,” he says. The decision will be made with a selection of researchers.
It is not as easy as it might sound, however.
Just take the deceased researchers’ profiles for example. Do the families want the profile to be deleted or retained? Is it only the contact information that is to be deleted, or do they also want the image removed? Do they see the profile as a painful memory or a small monument to the life work of the deceased?
For the researchers who are still alive, but are leaving the university to continue their work at another institution, it is not certain that they want to keep their profile.
“We have been contacted by researchers who have been appointed to a new place that say: “When I google myself, I pop up on UCPH pages that are outdated. I don’t want this. I want to be removed.’ This is the kind of thing that is a source of irritation, if you do not remove profiles automatically,” says Svend Kragballe.
To this can be added that he and his colleagues also need to consider the new data protection legislation. The question is how much information do they need to preserve in the system, and under what circumstances.
Claus Emmeche acknowledges that it is not a simple process. But he believes that they could solve several of the issues by setting up a separate archive for former researchers: “Why not keep the web pages that are out of date? You could just call it the archive.”
Svend Kragballe likes the idea. “This will come into consideration,” he says.
It is not yet known when the new find researcher search platform will be ready.