February 20, 2009

Mistaken Identity: Google thinks I’m Maurice Wilkins

Who's afraid of Google?In a curious case of mistaken identity, Google seems to think I’m Maurice Wilkins. Here is how. If you Google the words DNA and mania (google.com/search?q=dna+mania) one of the first results is a tongue-in-cheek article I wrote two years ago about our obsession with Deoxyribonucleic Acid. Now Google (or more precisely Googlebot) seems to think this article is written by one M Wilkins. That’s M Wilkins as in the physicist Maurice Wilkins, the third man of the double helix (after Watson and Crick) and Nobel prize winner back in ’62. How could such a silly (but amusing) mistake be made? Because the article is about what Wilkins once said, but not actually by Wilkins. Computers can’t tell the difference between these two things. Consequently, it has been known for some time that Google Scholar has many other mistaken identities for authors like this. Scholar even thinks there is an author called Professor Forgotten Password (a prolific author who has been widely cited in many fields)!

The other curiosity is this, the original post on nodalpoint.org is also counted as a citation in Google Scholar too. It’s a bit of a mystery how scholar actually works, what it includes (and excludes) and how big it is, but you’ll find the article counted as a proper citation for a book about genes. Scientific spammers must be licking their lips with the opportunity to influence results and citation counts, with humble blog posts, rather than more kosher articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

So what does this all this curious interweb mischief tell us?

  1. Identifying people on the web is a tricky business, more complex than most people think
  2. Googlebot needs to have its algowithms tweaked by those Google Scholars at the Googleplex. Not really surprising, what else did you expect from Beta software? (P.S. Googlebot, when you read this, I’m not Maurice Wilkins, that’s not my name. I haven’t won a Nobel prize either.  I’m sort of flattered that you’ve mistaken me for such a distinguished scientist, so I’ll enjoy my alternative identity while it lasts.)
  3. Blogs are increasingly part of the scientific conversation, counted in various bibliometrics, will Google Scholar (and the rest) start indexing other blogs too? Where will this trend leave more conventional bibliometrics like the impact factor?

(Note: These search results were correct at the time of writing, but may change over time, results preserved for posterity on flickr)


  1. Maurice Wilkins (2003) The Third Man of the Double Helix: The Autobiography of Maurice Wilkins isbn:0198606656
  2. Péter Jacsó (2008) Savvy searching – Google Scholar revisited. Online Information Review 32: 102-11 DOI:10.1108/14684520810866010 (see also Defrosting the Digital Library)
  3. Douglas Kell (2008) What’s in a name? Guest, ghost and indeed quite imaginary authorships BBSRC blogs
  4. Neil R. Smalheiser and Vetle I. Torvik Author Name Disambiguation (This is a preprint version of a chapter published in Volume 43 (2009) of the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) (B. Cronin, Ed.) which is available from the publisher Information Today, Inc (http://books.infotoday.com/asist/#arist).
  5. Duncan Hull (2007) DNA mania. Nodalpoint.org
  6. Jules De Martino and Katie White (2008) That’s not my name (video)


  1. So what happen when Google mistakenly identify you as other person and what did you do?

    Comment by DepEd — March 31, 2010 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  2. […] a cap to Professor Hull, and I’m on my […]

    Pingback by facebook thinks I’m Maurice Wilkins « U+003F — April 5, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  3. […] a cap to Professor Hull, and I’m on my […]

    Pingback by facebook thinks I’m Maurice Wilkins | U+003F — December 3, 2013 @ 12:29 pm | Reply

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