Re: The preprint is the postprint

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2000 10:15:26 +0000

On Tue, 5 Dec 2000, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> My whole
> objection to the preprint/postprint dichotomy is the implication that
> my work is made of straw until a journal cements it. I trust my own
> mathematical judgement, and I trust my correspondents even more, and
> therefore I don't need a journal to tell me whether or not I am right.

Here are two systems of quality-control and certification:

(SC) SELF-CERTIFICATION OF QUALITY: You select "correspondents"; it
is up to you which correspondents, and whether or not you act on their

(AC) ALLO-CERTIFICATION OF QUALITY: A (presumably qualified
[= "trustworthy"] expert) journal editor selects qualified
[= "trustworthy"] experts ("peers"); both your own responsiveness to
the peers' feedback and the journal's reputation and quality are
answerable to [= entrusted to] the editor. (In case of dissent, there
are of course always other editors, other journals.)

So this is all down to whether SC -- self-certification of quality
(through self-selection of quality-controllers for feedback, and
self-determination of what feedback to heed or ignore) -- could be
relied upon to yield a research literature that is at least of the
quality of the current refereed research literature, which is based on
the current quality-control system, which is AC (allo-certification).

Is it pedantic on my part to point out that you have provided no
evidence whatsoever that the answer to this question would be "yes?"

May I also ask you how far you would be prepared to generalize this SC
system? to farmers, rather than the FDC, self-certifying their beef
(after consultation with "correspondents")? to airlines, rather than the
FDA, self-certifying their safety? Should neighbourhoods self-police?
and Nobel candidates self-select (having duly consulted "trusted"

> Of course I am only really speaking for my discipline, mathematics,
> and in particular for myself. I am happy to assume that the situation
> is different in other disciplines.

Are mathematicians really so different from ordinary human beings that
SC works for them, even though it doesn't work for anyone else? I'm
prepared to believe it, but I'd prefer to see the objective evidence
(personal experience being no such evidence).

Meanwhile, my only concern is to make sure no one gets the wrong idea
that self-archiving = self-certification (SC). For that would be very
bad for the prospects of freeing the current referee (AC) literature
through self-archiving, at long last...

These empirical hypotheses about peer review and its alternatives and
improvements should be tested in a separate arena.

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

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):

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

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