Re: Self-Archiving vs. Self-Publishing FAQ

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 19:28:29 +0000

There is no dispute with Bernard Naylor.

YES, online self-archiving of unrefereed preprints is valuable for
establishing priority,

YES, online self-archiving of refereed reprints is valuable for
maximizing access to the peer-reviewed research literature, but

NO, the former is not and will not be a substitute for the latter. That
is all there is to it.

On Thu, 3 Feb 2000, Bernard Naylor wrote:

> I think Stevan Harnad is seriously underestimating the
> importance of "prior discovery", which may be established
> by the date attached to the placement of an unrefereed
> article on an open electronic repository.

Not at all; I have always sung the praises of online self-archiving of
unrefereed preprints, both to establish priority and to elicit
prepublication commentary.

    Harnad, S. (1990d) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication
    Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343
    (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).

> Anyone else coming along later to a journal editor and
> inviting referees to consider a draft article saying
> substantially the same thing must at least be prepared to
> be told: "What you are saying is not new; there is an
> article lodged on a publicly accessible electronic
> repository some months or years ago which says this." They
> may even face an accusation of plagiarism, than which there
> is little more serious in the world of academe.

Quite right, but not likely to be a very big or important category in
this world where the majority of the papers even in the refereed
corpus are read by few, cited by no one but the author, and, a fortiori,
neither likely to be plagiarized by anyone, nor much of a problem if
they are. (Plagiarizing work that no one cares about is a victimless
crime -- or, if there is a victim, it is not the plagiarized author,
but the plagiarizer's promotion review committee.)

In contemplating the vanity press, it rather biasses the picture if
one specifically imagines an unrefereed gem, rather than what most of
both the unrefereed and refereed literature actually consist of. Hence
the only way to assign an evaluative tag to this mostly inconsequential
(but not for that reason unnecessary or useless) literature is to
distinguish what has and has not successfully passed the filter of
peer review (and at what level, for there is a hierarchy of refereed
journals roughly rankable by their review-rigour/quality/impact).

A vanity publication, unless it proves (against the odds, and hence
unrepresentatively) to have been of high quality, is not a value in
itself, insofar as academic review committees (or researchers trying to
decide what work is worth venturing to build upon) are concerned. A
fortiori, its priority is of little interest.

> In the race to establish "prior discovery", which is
> academically very important in some fields, electronic
> article repositories are potentially an extremely important
> and relatively new factor, and likely to have great
> significance for how the cvs of some academics are built up
> and evaluated. And they do therefore raise crucial
> questions, for academic careers and on a number of other
> counts, about what constitutes "publication", questions
> which will need to be settled sooner or later.

Yes. Archive your unrefereed preprint for priority, in case in proves
important; then submit it for peer review, so it can be seen and
certified as at least having met THAT standard of importance.

One is not a substitute for the other except in the rarest of cases,
from which there are no general lessons to be drawn.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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