Re: The preprint is the postprint

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2000 17:43:24 +0000

On Tue, 5 Dec 2000, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> On Tue, Dec 05, 2000 at 04:38:02PM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> sh> The proposition was that the non-peer-reviewed preprint is the
> sh> same as the peer-reviewed postprint, i.e., that peer-review is
> sh> either non-existent or unnecessary.

> I have never said, nor do I believe,
> that peer review is either non-existent or unnecessary.
> I believe that
> the preprint is the postprint
> in the same sense that
> "Greg Kuperberg with tenure"
> is the same person as
> "Greg Kuperberg without tenure".

Let me try one last pass at it: The DIFF between postprint and
preprint (which Greg is suggesting is ZERO), consists of the changes
dictated by peer review: POSTPRINT - PREPRINT = DIFF. According to
Greg, DIFF = 0 (PREPRINT = POSTPRINT). (I am not a mathematician, but
I am trying to be as explicit as possible here, having been chided by
Greg for misuse of "exponential" previously...)

(In peer review, an expert editor sends the preprint to selected expert
referees [anonymity optional, pace Greg], who point out errors,
problems, requisite changes, etc., which the author makes in revision,
including, sometimes, several successive rounds of revision and
re-refereeing, under the adjudication of the editor, until, if
successful, the preprint eventually becomes the accepted postprint.)

[I leave out the "invisible hand" effects of peer review on the
preprint itself in this analysis; these actually have the effect of
reducing the preprint/postprint DIFF, but would have the opposite
effect if preprints were not pre-emptively written, as they virtually
all are, with the expectation of having to answer to this peer review

This means that the preprint and the postprint are not the same paper,
and the peer-review-mandated changes (DIFF) are what constitue the
difference between them.

Now in what conceivable sense is this substantive (indeed qualitative)
difference in content, owing to the dynamic, interactive effects of
quality-control (peer review), in any way analogous to the difference
between "Greg Kuperberg with tenure" and "Greg Kuperberg without
tenure"? Greg stresses that both are the same person, by which he
(rightly) sets aside the (irrelevant) difference in status and income.

But that is not true of the preprint and postprint! They are NOT the
same paper. And that's what all this is about: the qualitative
difference in content between the preprint and the postprint. That is
what Greg is wanting to say = zero, without any evidence, and by a
mis-analogy to POST-HOC review (as in movie or book review) -- which
indeed do not produce any change in quality (just as tenure review does
not produce any change in quality, or personhood).

Is Greg simply forgetting that peer review is not a a process of
posterior evaluation, but a dynamic, interactive process of anterior
modification of the content of the preprint, answerable to the editor,
with the result being the preprint/postprint DIFF?

(I will not dilate on the double irony that tenure review itself is
often itself highly parasitic on the prior verdict of peer review.
That, in brief, is because tenure committees do not have the time or
the expertise to do what the experts selected by the expert editors
have already done. Nor is it at all clear -- though it is not certain
either -- that this is not precisely as it should be, scholarly divisions
of labor being what they are: Peers, when they wear their referees'
hats, are performing a double yeoman's service -- a give-away service,
I might add, like the give-away research reports they are reviewing...)

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

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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