EPRINTS = PREPRINTS (unrefereed) + POSTPRINTS (refereed)

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 11:43:12 +0100

In "Souped-up search engines" (Nature May 11 2000)
Declan Butler wrote:

> in February, the operators of the world's leading
> archives of electronic preprints, or 'e-prints', agreed standard
> formats that should allow scientists to search across all of them
> simultaneously.

Two errors here, one small, one not so small. The small one is that it
wasn't in February. The other one -- rather bigger and leading to
endless misunderstandings -- is that "e-prints" is NOT synonymous with
"electronic preprints." (I am beginning to believe that this persistent
erroneous equation of the two may be one of the factors delaying us
on the road to the optimal and the inevitable.)

EPRINTS (or e-prints) are electronic versions of BOTH "preprints" and

PREPRINTS in turn means pre-refereeing (i.e., unrefereed) research
papers, almost all of them prepared for submission to refereed journals
(or refereed conference proceedings) for refereeing.

POSTPRINTS are post-refereeing (i.e., refereed, revised, accepted final
drafts of) research papers, all of them appearing in or soon to appear
in refereed journals (or refereed conference proceedings).

Incorrectly equating eprints with preprints and forgetting about
postprints gives the entirely erroneous impression that the free, online
eprint archives are only, or primarily, for unrefereed research. This is
not true, and never has been true. Authors can and do self-archive their
preprints (first, naturally), and, once they are refereed, revised and
accepted, their postprints too, in the same archives (either in place
of, or, better, in addition to, their embryonic predecessors).

Not making it explicitly clear that "eprints" = "preprints +
postprints" can lead to confusing either/or statements like these:

> This Santa Fe Convention will allow e-prints to be tagged as
> 'refereed' or 'unrefereed', along with other information such as
> author and keywords. Using software that will become available
> this month, any scientist could, in principle, set up an e-print or
> refereed website, or a site of conference proceedings, in the
> knowledge that it would be compatible with this global system.

The first half sounds like it understands that eprints consist of
BOTH preprints (unrefereed) AND postprints (refereed), but the second
sounds again like EITHER/OR.

Let me accordingly make it quite explicit: The refereed/unrefereed
tag is meant to distinguish papers (or embryonic stages of papers) in
the SAME archive. The soon-to-be-released Santa-Fe-compliant, eprint
software in question is intended, in the first instance, for
adoption by universities to provide an immediate interperable open
archive for the self-archiving of all their researchers papers (pre-
and post-refereeing), in all disciplines. The "refereed" (and
"journal-name") metadata tags will then allow all the distributed open
eprint archive clones to be collected by open search and harvesting
services into one global searchable, full-text-accessible "virtual
collection" of the refereed literature, with the user not having to
worry about where the actual papers happen to be located.

Secondarily, the same software can be used to establish
discipline-specific central open eprint archives by Learned Societies,
open-archives for Conference Proceedings by Learned Conference
Organizers or even journal-specific open-archives by refereed journal

The open eprint archive software, however, is predicated on
fire-wall-free access to the full texts for one and all. It is
configurable, so in principle that free access can be blocked -- not
just for financial fire-walling, but for institution-internal purposes
-- however, it was designed in the interests of open rather than
restricted uses.

The Nature article unfortunately omitted the URL for this software:

> If these efforts succeed in weaving a seamless web from the
> scientific literature, researchers should find that the hours spent
> trawling through pages of irrelevant search returns are
> consigned to history.

Fire-wall-free citaton linking of the entire full-text eprint
literature (preprint and postprint) is indeed the optimal and
inevitable outcome toward which all these efforts are dedicated.


Stevan Harnad harnad_at_cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science harnad_at_princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):


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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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