Re: Self-Archiving and the reaction of publishers

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 19:33:01 +0000

On Mon, 6 Nov 2000, Bernard Naylor wrote:

> The question of when and where Dr X went public to "the whole world" on
> a scientific matter - and I mean scientific in the broadest sense -
> seems to me to be an intrinsic feature of our present system of
> scholarly communication.

My colleague Bernard Naylor makes some thoughtful points about
preprints, eprints, priority, plagiarism and publication, but I
am afraid some properties get spuriously linked to other properties
just because of our word-choice.

We can use "publication" in at least two ways:

(1) Making one's words PUBLIC. Legally speaking, one is already
PUBLISHING in this sense when one records one's words in the written
medium (I don't know about voice recording on tape): One written letter
is a "publication," and the author's intellectual property, his text, is
protected by copyright (if asserted, and provable).

(2) A second sense of publication, one specific to the special
literature that is under discussion here -- the refereed research
literature -- is the appearance (on-paper or on-line) under a
publisher's "imprimatur," certifying that paper has been refereed and
accepted by that journal. For this special literature, "publication" in
this second, scholarly rather than legal sense, refers to REFEREED,
PUBLISHER-CERTIFIED publication, as opposed to self-certified, "vanity
press" publication (in a non-refereed "journal").

Pre-refereeing "preprints" would fall under (1) above, whereas
post-refereeing postprints would fall under (2), regardless of whether
they were on-paper or on-line ("eprints").

Priority is a matter that often pertains to (1) (and may even be
asserted on the basis of an oral conference report). By the same token,
plagiarism is also a matter of concern for (1) as well as (2).

The only remaining question is: What does a PUBLISHER regard as "prior
publication," if that publisher has a policy (sic) of not publishing
(or refereeing) anything that has already been published? (And, of
course, the ancillary question, "Why?" i.e., "What is the justification
for the policy?")

Note, however, that the answer to the latter questions will differ for
the special literature under discussion here (the refereed research
literature, which is and always has been an author-give-away) and the
rest of the literature (monographs, textbooks, magazine articles, which
are written by their authors for royalties or fees, hence they are not

For the non-give-away literature, it is clear that the rationale for the
"no prior publication" policy is revenue: Why should I waste my
resources on re-publishing something that has already been published,
rather than something has not? Something that has already been
published has already exhausted all or part of its potential market.

That is all well and good. But what is the rationale for the "no prior
publication" policy in the case of the (author) give-away literature?
Is a researcher, for example, not to report his findings at a
conference, nor send (paper) preprints to colleagues, etc., because
they technically fall under (1), above, and hence constitute "prior

The two papers I cited in my prior posting discuss these questions of

but to answer Bernard we need not examine those questions of
justification. We need merely make the distinctions I made above
(between (1) and (2) and between preprints and postprints). Then
some straightforward answers to Bernard's questions immediately suggest

> Scholarly communication and the building of scholarly knowledge assumes
> that someone makes a "public statement of position" of this kind and
> must then accept that their ideas can be tested in the usual ways which
> operate in the various disciplines.

Correct. And the scholarly community (indeed the "peer" community) is
familiar with, and quite experienced in making the distinction between
"public statements" of kind (1) and kind (2), i.e., between unrefereed
preprints and refereed postprints. Preprints are fine for asserting
priority, and preventing plagiarism, but caveat emptor when it comes to
trusting the validity of the findings until they have successfully
passed through the filter of peer review to (2).

> Scholarly communication also assumes that going public in this way
> implicitly underpins any future claim to have been the first to state
> something, in any future dispute about "who got there first".

Correct. And it is important, given the unavoidable delays in the peer
review process, and the (avoidable) delays in the subsequent
publication process, to be able to assert priority as early as possible
(e.g., via (1), preprints). Otherwise you risk not being given credit
for having said and done it first (in the case of a prior, independent
discovery) or worse, you might even be plagiarized, with someone
getting hold of your text and claiming to have said and done it first
themselves (the more public you make your text the better, to protect
from plagiarism, and public archiving along with digital date-stamping
is one of the best ways to do so).

> Hence, it has always seemed to me to be essential that we need to be
> clear whether the deposit of an article in an e-print archive
> represents "publication", not for legal or policy reasons but because
> of the nature of scholarship and the way that the corpus of knowledge
> of any particular discipline is built up, through the efforts of
> individual scholars over time.

But it is a legal/policy matter that preprints are "publications" in
sense (1), because these priority/plagiarism issues are legal issues
(journals also have policies about it, because they too suffer from
having their texts stolen, though not quite in the same place that
an author suffers from having his authorship stolen).

On the other hand, publication in sense (2) is what other researchers
who are considering whether to cite and try to build upon the work, or
tenure/promotion committees who are considering whether to reward the
worker must await; the rest is uncertified vanity-press for most of
their scholarly purposes.

> At present, we do not seem to be clear - though it looks to me, for all
> intents and purposes, as though deposit of an article in an e-print
> repository represents "publication" in the scholarly sense. How would
> anyone who plagiarised such a deposited article stand if they claimed
> that the knowledge they had plagiarised "had not been published" and
> therefore that the intellectual ownership of it had not been
> established to the world at large in the traditional scholarly way?

See above. Plagiarism, a legal matter, concerns publication (1) just
as much as publication (2).

> It may be that, in the world of e-repositories, the whole question of
> what constitutes "first publication" needs to be re-examined carefully.
> My guess is that sooner or later there will be a row about it, probably
> between two ambitious and competitive scholars. It would be better if
> we were clear on this point before that happens.

It will no doubt be re-examined, and the outcome is fairly clear,
insofar as the legal assertion of priority and detection of plagiarism
is concerned. (Note that publication (2), and hence publisher policies
with regard to publication (2) have nothing to do with any of this,)

> If the conclusion is that prior deposit in an e-archive is
> "publication" in the scholarly sense, I should be rather surprised if
> publishers don't consider that important. "You first read it in our
> pages" is one of the things they pride themselves on.

Yes, but whereas in non-author-give-away publication it was not only
both the author's and the publisher's "pride" but also their (joint)
PURSE that was the decisive concern in this matter of prior
publication. With the author-give-away literature, the pride (the
author's) and the purse (the publisher's) are in conflict.

Is there any doubt as to how this conflict of interest can, should, and
will be resolved?

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

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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