Re: The preprint is the postprint

From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>
Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2000 16:21:31 -0800

On Fri, Dec 01, 2000 at 06:24:48PM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> I. The empirical evidence against the thesis that
> "preprint = postprint"
> Since the advent of public online self-archiving of research over a
> decade ago, there has been NO SIGN WHATSOEVER of any change in
> researchers' standard practise of continuing to submit all their
> preprints to refereed journals (or refereed conference proceedings)
> for peer review and publication. Self-archiving, as I have pointed
> out many times, is a SUPPLEMENT TO, not a SUBSTITUTE FOR
> peer-reviewed publication. For example, virtually every one of the
> 130,000 papers in the Physics Archive eventually appears in a
> refereed journal, and this has been true from the very first days
> of the archive onward: The preprint appears first, and then (within
> about 8-12 months) either the postprint is archived too, or the
> preprint is updated to include the reference...

I would not say "virtually every", but I agree that the great majority
of papers in the arXiv system (counting physics and math) are eventually
published in the traditional sense. And I also agree that the arXiv
is intended to supplement peer review. But this is in no way evidence
against the thesis that preprint equals postprint; rather it is evidence
in favor.

Again, I can only speak for what happens in mathematics, especially with
my own papers. Yes, I do still submit my papers to journals, and yes,
the reason is that I want them peer reviewed. But I don't agree with the
"and publication" part at all. I don't really care whether the journals
publish my papers, in the sense of "making them public", because the
recent ones are already in the arXiv. That they accept the papers is
all that I really want.

In other contexts it would be absurd to conflate peer review with
distribution as many people do when discussing journals. Janet Maslin
reviews movies; she does not sell movie tickets. The critics certainly
do have an "invisible hand" in making movies (admittely a pretty
weak one sometimes), but who would ever think of separate terms for
movies before and after the critics have seen them? A closer example
is that in mathematics there is a second stage of peer review, in
the form of Math Reviews and Zentralblatt, that in some respects is
better than peer review from journals. (The URL for Math Reviews is .) Again, no one says that Math Reviews
publishes papers. But it does review them.

Note also that even though most arXiv articles are published, some
fraction of them are not. By now there are thousands of arXiv-only
e-prints and some of them are very important and even famous. My favorite
example is "Deformation quantization of Poisson manifolds, I", by Maxim
Kontsevich [q-alg/9709040]. Because of further research developments
after it was written, it will probably never be published. But it has
been cited many times. Beyond that it was reviewed by the committee
for the 1998 Fields Medals, which then did award Kontsevich the Fields
Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. Ironically Math Reviews
ignored q-alg/9709040 as a mere preprint, and at first ignored its sequel
math.QA/9904055 as a mere preprint as well. But finally this year it
gave the sequel a rave review, three years after the first news appeared
in the arXiv. As a final irony the review itself has more references
to the arXiv than to "published" papers.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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