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From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>

Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 12:03:28 -0800

Subject: The preprint is the postprint

As I understand it, Stevan Harnad envisions the transition to open

archives as taking place in a specific order: First we shall free the

literature, preserving the dichotomy between unrefereed preprints and

refereed postprints, and then we will consider whether or not peer review

needs to be restructured. I think that the mathematical literature,

at least, should go and is going in a different direction.

TeX, the Internet, and the math arXiv have been steadily erasing the

difference between the preprint and the postprint. There was a time

when postprints were better edited, better typeset, better distributed,

and more permament than preprints. These days most published math

papers are only slightly better edited than preprints, and sometimes

not at all; only slightly better typeset, and sometimes not at all.

If a preprint is in the arXiv, it is at least as permanent and at least

as widely distributed as any published paper. So the main remaining

difference between preprints and postprints is that postprints are

"peer reviewed", meaning that they have been anonymously refereed.

Sometimes the referees suggest important changes, but such suggestions

are equivalent to those that from other colleagues. Peer review of

math papers, then, is little more than a state of mind. By analogy,

book reviews are certainly useful, but they do not change the books

themselves, only the readers' impression of them. The arXiv inevitably

relegates anonymous journal refereeing to the same role.

To be sure, many mathematicians still see a dichotomy between "preprints"

and "published papers". For example many authors omit the arXiv numbers

for papers that are also published. However even these people contradict

their habits as bibliographers with their habits as readers. Everyone

assumes that different versions of a paper are usually roughly the same.

And if there are important differences, a crucial correction is almost

as likely to show up in a post-published e-print, or in a future paper,

as in the original published version.

So in my view the dichotomy between preprints and postprints is

somewhere between fictitious and artificial. And I think that instead

of postponing the peer review question, the right approach is to try

to restructure peer review around the math arXiv. So far we have only

succeeded in taking it half way, and only on a small scale. There are

now three journals, Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics,

Geometry and Topology, and Algebraic and Geometric Topology, that are

arXiv "overlays"; they systematically contribute all of their papers to

the arXiv, and they systematically contribute the typeset copy as a new

version of papers already in the arXiv. See

http://www.intlpress.com/journals/ATMP/

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/gt/

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/agt/

A more radical approach is to review arXiv articles without distributing

them at all or claiming possession in any way, indeed without even

consulting the authors. This is what Quick Reviews does in the field

of quantum computation:

http://quickreviews.org/

Admittedly Quick Reviews is a primitive effort, but it may well

represent the future.

Regardless, the steps towards integrating peer review with the arXiv

(both the conservative experiments and the more radical ones) are not by

any means a distraction from the ultimate goal. They add to the arXiv's

reputation and they help attract new submissions. We don't want to pull

the rug out from subscription journals and leave peer review suspended

in mid-air. Rather we would like to work with journals and reviewers

to build the new system.

Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 12:03:28 -0800

Subject: The preprint is the postprint

As I understand it, Stevan Harnad envisions the transition to open

archives as taking place in a specific order: First we shall free the

literature, preserving the dichotomy between unrefereed preprints and

refereed postprints, and then we will consider whether or not peer review

needs to be restructured. I think that the mathematical literature,

at least, should go and is going in a different direction.

TeX, the Internet, and the math arXiv have been steadily erasing the

difference between the preprint and the postprint. There was a time

when postprints were better edited, better typeset, better distributed,

and more permament than preprints. These days most published math

papers are only slightly better edited than preprints, and sometimes

not at all; only slightly better typeset, and sometimes not at all.

If a preprint is in the arXiv, it is at least as permanent and at least

as widely distributed as any published paper. So the main remaining

difference between preprints and postprints is that postprints are

"peer reviewed", meaning that they have been anonymously refereed.

Sometimes the referees suggest important changes, but such suggestions

are equivalent to those that from other colleagues. Peer review of

math papers, then, is little more than a state of mind. By analogy,

book reviews are certainly useful, but they do not change the books

themselves, only the readers' impression of them. The arXiv inevitably

relegates anonymous journal refereeing to the same role.

To be sure, many mathematicians still see a dichotomy between "preprints"

and "published papers". For example many authors omit the arXiv numbers

for papers that are also published. However even these people contradict

their habits as bibliographers with their habits as readers. Everyone

assumes that different versions of a paper are usually roughly the same.

And if there are important differences, a crucial correction is almost

as likely to show up in a post-published e-print, or in a future paper,

as in the original published version.

So in my view the dichotomy between preprints and postprints is

somewhere between fictitious and artificial. And I think that instead

of postponing the peer review question, the right approach is to try

to restructure peer review around the math arXiv. So far we have only

succeeded in taking it half way, and only on a small scale. There are

now three journals, Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics,

Geometry and Topology, and Algebraic and Geometric Topology, that are

arXiv "overlays"; they systematically contribute all of their papers to

the arXiv, and they systematically contribute the typeset copy as a new

version of papers already in the arXiv. See

http://www.intlpress.com/journals/ATMP/

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/gt/

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/agt/

A more radical approach is to review arXiv articles without distributing

them at all or claiming possession in any way, indeed without even

consulting the authors. This is what Quick Reviews does in the field

of quantum computation:

http://quickreviews.org/

Admittedly Quick Reviews is a primitive effort, but it may well

represent the future.

Regardless, the steps towards integrating peer review with the arXiv

(both the conservative experiments and the more radical ones) are not by

any means a distraction from the ultimate goal. They add to the arXiv's

reputation and they help attract new submissions. We don't want to pull

the rug out from subscription journals and leave peer review suspended

in mid-air. Rather we would like to work with journals and reviewers

to build the new system.

-- /\ Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis) / \ \ / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at http://front.math.ucdavis.edu/ \/ * All the math that's fit to e-print *Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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