Re: Evaluation of preprint/postprint servers

From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 08:37:14 -0800

On Thu, Dec 14, 2000 at 12:48:41PM -0500, Jim Till wrote:
> Certainly, a crucial criterion for the quality of an eprint archive is the
> quality of the eprints in it. However, when an archive is still rather
> small, should one rely only on this criterion?

Actually, my main criterion in evaluating an archive in mathematics is
its suitability as part of the envisioned universal archive. Of course
the mathematics arXiv gets the highest marks because it is by far the
biggest and most sophisticated one and because it is connected with the
physics arXiv, which is far bigger still.

After that there is an array of about a dozen subject-based archives and
several dozen institutional ones. These range in size from 5 papers in
a moribund archive to 2,000 papers accruing at a rate of 30 per month.
My main criterion for evaluating each of these is the chance of persuading
the maintainers to merge with the arXiv. Unfortunately this criterion
often runs counter to the other measures of quality. If an archive is in
really bad shape (moribund, disorganized, obscure), then the maintainer
might already want to retire it, and might well accept the arXiv as the
best retirement plan. But if an archive is (relatively) well-run, the
maintainers might well not want any advice from me. They might well,
out of rivalry, feel that the arXiv should "get its own papers".

Europe presents its own special problems. I have learned that some
administrators in Germany, Austria, and France see the arXiv as an
American octopus, and they have thought of several European "answers"
to the arXiv. This has retarded continental Europe's participation in
the math arXiv, although only slightly. Also the arXiv does have a full
set of mirror sites in Europe, and in physics the arXiv is so important
that political concerns don't stop anyone. In any case negotiations
with European archives are especially sensitive.

I am well aware that some people here see interoperability as a magic
wand of diplomacy. It is true that standards for interoperability are
popular among territorial archive maintainers. But in my opinion this
solves very few problems. To give you an example of what goes wrong,
the main non-arXiv archives continue to report metadata for papers that
have been removed, as if they still had them. These archives may be
relatively good, but they still don't have either the experience or the
pressing need to match the standards of the arXiv. Indeed, the arXiv
is more reliably interoperable than any other mathematical archive.

It should be food for thought that there is only one archive for TeX
macros (CTAN, the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network) and only one archive
for Perl libraries (CPAN, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network).
Many of the issues are the same for these two great software endeavors
as they are for scholarly communication. These communities abandoned
their territorialism long ago, and they did so with far less controversy
and fanfare.

> For example, consider "security through obscurity": I'll argue that
> another criterion for the evaluation of the quality of an eprint archive
> probably should be its accessibility.

Yes, that was an unstated point of my comments: Small archives are
free of certain problems because they instead suffer from more serious
  /\  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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:59 GMT