Re: Financial Times Article on Self-Archiving: 23 July 2001

From: Greg Kuperberg <>
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 13:31:20 +0100

It is true that in most of the arXiv the author has to supply the journal
of publication, and that most authors don't do this. However the SLAC
SPIRES service at Stanford supplies this data to the arXiv in high-energy
physics. For example, if you look at the first 100 articles in the
hep-th archive in December 1998,

you will see that 77 of the 100 have journal-ref fields. I just did a
cursory review of the other 23. At least 4 of these are published in
journals but were missed by SPIRES. Of the other 19, 11 are labelled
by the authors as conference proceedings or invited lectures, and
2 are Ph.D. theses. Thus at least 94 of the 100 have been blessed by
some form of peer review.

Now I know that there is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't argument
against the arXiv: if an arXiv article is published, it's theft,
and if isn't published, it's crap. However, in high-energy theory
the publishers know full well that their articles are in the arXiv,
and that they are going to stay in the arXiv. They are still willing
to publish these articles, presumably because otherwise they wouldn't
have any high-energy theory articles to publish.

Besides, just because an article isn't published, that doesn't prove that
it's crap. It could be a confident work by a superstar who is no longer
on the publish-or-perish treadmill. (math.GT/9712268 is one example.)
According to the recent New York Times article on the arXiv,

most high-energy theorists are not only awed by the average quality
of hep-th, but also don't mind that it accepts a few
never-to-be-published as well as obvious oddball submissions.
You can view it as egalitarianism.

I can also address George Lundberg's question about how readers are to
be warned about arXiv articles that aren't and shouldn't be published.
Or, more often, arXiv articles that shouldn't be published but are
anyway. It may be different in medical research, but in math and physics
most mediocre papers are sufficiently boring that almost no one reads
them or cites them. (In math this happens to very good papers too,
unfortunately.) After a month or so even green readers generally don't
find these papers even if they are in the arXiv. A few papers are both
provocative and mediocre, and some such papers are criticized in other
arXiv papers. E.g. if I understand things correctly quant-ph/0003036
discredits quant-ph/9806088, even though the latter was published in
Physical Review Letters.

In mathematics it is less common for people to criticize other people's
papers but more common for people to criticize their own. Most of
us live by a code of certitude that would be impossibly strict in many
disciplines. This is not necessarily because we're more honorable people;
rather the subject matter is relatively precise. It is consequently
devastating to your reputation if you refuse to admit error. For instance
a recently withdrawn math arXiv article, math.NT/0106267, is perfectly
correct and interesting; the authors retracted it solely because the
result was previously known.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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