The disambiguation of people names in biological collections

Quentin Groom, Christian Bräuchler, Robert W.N. Cubey, Mathias Dillen, Pieter Huybrechts, Nicole Kearney, Niels Klazenga, Siobhan Leachman, Deborah L. Paul, Heather Rogers, Joaquim Santos, David Peter Shorthouse, Alison Vaughan, Sabine von Mering, Elspeth M. Haston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scientific collections have been built by people. For hundreds of years, people have collected, studied, identified, preserved, documented and curated collection specimens. Understanding who those people are is of interest to historians, but much more can be made of these data by other stakeholders once they have been linked to the people’s identities and their biographies. Knowing who people are helps us attribute work correctly, validate data and understand the scientific contribution of people and institutions. We can evaluate the work they have done, the interests they have, the places they have worked and what they have created from the specimens they have collected. The problem is that all we know about most of the people associated with collections are their names written on specimens. Disambiguating these people is the challenge that this paper addresses. Disambiguation of people often proves difficult in isolation and can result in staff or researchers independently trying to determine the identity of specific individuals over and over again. By sharing biographical data and building an open, collectively maintained dataset with shared knowledge, expertise and resources, it is possible to collectively deduce the identities of individuals, aggregate biographical information for each person, reduce duplication of effort and share the information locally and globally. The authors of this paper aspire to disambiguate all person names efficiently and fully in all their variations across the entirety of the biological sciences, starting with collections. Towards that vision, this paper has three key aims: to improve the linking, validation, enhancement and valorisation of person-related information within and between collections, databases and publications; to suggest good practice for identifying people involved in biological collections; and to promote coordination amongst all stakeholders, including individuals, natural history collections, institutions, learned societies, government agencies and data aggregators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere86089
JournalBiodiversity Data Journal
StatePublished - 2022


  • Attribution
  • Authority file
  • Biography
  • Linked open data
  • Wikidata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Plant Science
  • Ecology


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