Re: Electronic Theses and Dissertations 2001

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2001 14:29:42 +0000

On Thu, 6 Dec 2001 Deirdre Sharp <> wrote:

> If you think that this is something worth airing on the
> DNER list I am happy for you to use the above enquiry.
> Recalling the discussions about authors
> retaining their copyright in papers that they put on the
> Web, and the attitude of publishers to this, it occurs to
> me that we may be dealing with a related issue if we
> digitise our theses and put them on an intranet. Your views
> would be welcome.
> There is discussion here about keeping future theses in
> digital form and mounting the collection on the University
> intranet. I am looking at IPR and the issue of 'prior
> publication'. Our students, incidentally, are deemed to own
> the IPR in their theses subject to specific agreements
> where a research contract/grant is involved.
> In general, does mounting on an intranet constitute
> publication, and thus change the status of the thesis from
> unpublished to published?

(1) There are two senses of the word "published." For copyright
purposes, writing it on a single piece of paper with your
copyright notice is publication, and protected (though vulnerable!).

(2) But the above technical sense of "published" is certainly not what
academics and other authors mean by published. They mean published
in a refereed journal as an article, or published by a publisher
as a book (preferably not vanity-press, though that too would be
publication in this substantive sense).

It would be absurd of a journal or book publisher to try to count (1)
as prior publication when it involves writing down the manuscript on
paper and circulating for it feedback to colleagues as a preprint. It
is nominally feasible, though not less absurd, and certainly not
enforceable, for a refereed journal to declare the dissemination of the
unrefereed preprint as "prior publication," regardless of the medium
(paper, email, web) in which it was disseminated. For refereed
journals, it is the refereed, accepted, certified draft appearing under
the publisher's imprimatur that is the publication, and the unrefereed
preprints are not. The exception is the so-called "Ingelfinger Rule,"
which some journals (fewer and fewer, as time passes) have tried to invoke in
order to prevent online self-archiving of the unrefereed preprints.

    Harnad, S. (2000) E-Knowledge: Freeing the Refereed Journal Corpus
    Online. Computer Law & Security Report 16(2) 78-87. [Rebuttal to
    Bloom Editorial in Science and Relman Editorial in New England
    Journal of Medicine]

    Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in
    the Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. Lancet
    Perspectives 256 (December Supplement): s16.

The Ingelfinger Rule is unnecessary, unjustifiable, in direct conflict
with what the interests of research and researchers (and intended only
to protect publishers' revenue streams in continuing to publish the
Gutenberg way instead of the PostGutenberg way), not a legal but merely
a policy matter, invoked by only a smaller and smaller minority of
journal publishers, and, most important, not enforceable in practise.
So (in my opinion), the best advice one can give to researchers is
simply to ignore it completely. Nothing has happened to the countless
authors who have sensibly ignored it to date; nothing will happen in
the future either. The Ingelfinger Rule is obsolescent, indefensible,
unenforceable, and exercises today at most only a superstitious
subjective deterrent effect on the more naive, gullible and timid among

> Would a journal reject a paper derived from a thesis
> disseminated in this way on grounds of having already been
> published?

No (apart from those journals that still invoke the Ingelfinger
Rule, and only if brought explicitly to their attention).

> So far as you know, what are the attitudes of other bodies
> where prior publication is a factor to such dissemination?
> Deirdre Sharp

There IS an issue about the self-archiving of theses, but it has nothing
to do with their prospects of being published as subsequent refereed
journal articles. It concerns their possible future publication as
royalty-bearing BOOKS. Books, unlike refereed journal articles, are not
author give-aways. They are potential sources of revenue. I can easily
see a thesis author balking at being forced to make available online
for-free a book from which he could perhaps make some royalty revenue.
If this potential incentive were taken away from authors, it could very
well lead to certain creative efforts being still-born:

    Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000) Academic publishing in
    the online era: What Will Be For-Fee And What Will Be For-Free?
    Culture Machine 2 (Online Journal)

    "What About the Author Self-Archiving of Books?"

Moreover, in the case of books, as opposed to journal articles, it is
definitely in publishers' interests, and fully justifiable, that they
decline to assume the costs of publishing them, on-line and/or on-paper,
if a free online version is already publicly available. I think it
is transparent in such cases that the publisher has a right to ask that
the text not have been made publicly available (whether for-free or for-fee)
previously, and to decline to publish it if it has been (if the publisher
does not have an economic model for recovering costs and making a fair
profit under those conditions -- for esoteric monographs a model may exist
along the same lines as for refereed journal articles, in the form of
up-front quality-control costs). This is essential the "price" of
desiring a non-vanity-press quality-certification and imprimatur for
one's book, even if one is not seeking author royalties. (But again, new
publisher cost-recovery models may make some of this possible in future.)

Last, whereas enforcement of the Ingelfinger Rule (tracking down all
online lookalikes) is completely unenforceable in the case of refereed
journal submissions -- as well as being completely at odds with the
scientific/scholarly motivations of the researchers who are doing the
refereeing and editing of those journals -- it is enforceable and justifiable
in the case of book texts; indeed, online theses by the author would be the
first place a publisher might ask his reviewers of the book proposal to look,
in deciding whether there would be a potential market for the publication!

"Copyright, Embargo, and the Ingelfinger Rule"

"Ingelfinger and physics journals"

"Ingelfinger rule and the Stokholm Syndrome"

"Arnold Relman's NEJM Editorial about NIH/E-biomed"

"Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy"

"Self-Archiving Vs. Self-Publishing FAQ"

"Preprint servers and primary publication"

"Copyright: Form, Content, and Prepublication Incarnations"

"Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off"

"Electronic Theses and Dissertations 2001"

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):

You may join the list at the amsci site.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Thu Dec 06 2001 - 17:32:10 GMT

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