Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Eberhard R. Hilf <>
Date: Thu, 6 Nov 2003 15:53:21 +0000

I agree with Stevan: ArXiv just needs a note clarifying that it is only
a time stamp and archiving machine, and takes no legal responsibility
for its content because it does not 'read the content' (as referees
do). It acts as a gateway provider. So the risk stays with the author.

Within-arxiv plagiarism can easily be checked within the
arxiv. Plagiarized papers will have a later time stamp, and thus the
original author can be spotted and the later one(s) blamed.

In contrast, scientific journals, serving to 'read and referee and check
the content of the paper' and gaining the ownership are responsible in
case the paper turns out to be plagiarized.

So, journal publishers run a real legal risk, in that they do not check
for plagiarism, - and they have to check this across all journals of all
publishers, since they claimed it's new.

The Schoen case and many others confirm: plagiarism in the e-age is a
real and formidable because it is so easy to-do. Plagiarism only seemed
to be rare, because it was not checked by the journals.

An still wider spread abuse is self-plagiarism, copy-and-pasting from
one's own older papers. Easy, 'legal', but a piece of misconduct by the
author from the standpoint of the reader. lists the recent London conference on plagiarism,
misconduct of authors, referees, journal editors.


Eberhard R. Hilf, Dr. Prof.;
CEO (Geschaeftsfuehrer)
Institute for Science Networking Oldenburg GmbH
an der Carl von Ossietzky Universitaet
Ammerlaender Heerstr.121; D-26129 Oldenburg
email :
tel : +49-441-798-2884
fax : +49-441-798-5851

On Thu, 6 Nov 2003, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> Yet another piece of evidence has appeared that seems to confirm that
> whereas central archiving was historically the way in which self-archiving
> began, it is not the fastest or best form for it to grow and spread today:
> The Nature headline is (as usual for the press) an exaggeration:
> "Critical comments threaten to open libel floodgate for physics archive"
> "Legal concerns plague open access physics archive"
> but the facts seem to be that, across the years, some papers that
> contained plagiarism or libel might have found their way into ArXiv's vast
> (250,000 papers) and unvetted collection.
> I said "unvetted," but of course almost all those papers are
> also submitted to peer-reviewed journals, which *do* vet them,
> and when there have been any corrections to the unrefereed
> preprint, the authors self-archive the refereed postprint too:
> So the (tiny) problem of plagiarism and libel is with papers that have
> *not* been peer-reviewed.
> ArXiv can make an effort to vet its daily submissions for plagiarism or
> libel, but at nearly 4000 per month, this would be quite a task:
> So the natural conclusions to draw from this seem to be the following:
> (1) OAI-interoperability has now made all OAI-compliant archives
> equivalent: They can all be harvested and jointly searched. It no
> longer makes any difference which archive a paper is actually deposited
> in:
> (2) Not only are institutions in the best position to vet their own
> research output before approving deposits in their own institutional
> archives (probably on a departmental basis, optimally)
> but this vetting load is much better shouldered in a distributed way,
> rather than having one centralized vettor for all of the planet's research
> output (in physics, mathematics, or other disciplines).
> (3) Having institutional self-archived research output housed in the
> institution's own archives also immunizes the archive from external
> liabilities (such as plagiarizers from other institutions) but it also
> makes it even more clear that -- contrary to what the Nature article
> says it is, and perhaps contrary even to what the Physics ArXiv *thinks*
> it is -- open-access archives are not *publishers*! They are merely a
> means of providing open access to (refereed) publications (as well as
> to their precursor unrefereed preprints).
> "Garfield: 'Acknowledged Self-Archiving is Not Prior Publication'"
> For those who needed a reminder of it, research's "publish or perish"
> mandate is *not* "self-archive or perish"! "Publication" refers to
> certification as having met the known peer-review quality standards of
> a journal, not to having pressed the click button to self-archive an
> unrefereed draft in an open-access archive! That meets the (trivial)
> legal definition of "publishing," to be sure -- even hand-writing it
> on paper once and showing it to someone does! But it certainly doesn't
> meet the definition of what the research community (and promotion/salary
> committees, and research-funding councils) means by "publication,"
> which is to be certified by a qualified, neutral third-party as having
> met its known standards of peer review. At best, the self-archiving
> of an unrefereed draft qualifies as vanity-press *self-publication* --
> but that is precisely what researchers' institutions and their "publish
> or perish" mandates are there in order to *protect* their researchers
> from doing! (Or rather, to ensure that they go on to get their papers
> properly peer-reviewed and certified as having met the peer-review
> standards of the particular journal that accepted the paper.)
> By the same token, it is each researcher's own institution -- not a
> centralized entity like ArXiv -- that is in the best position to prevent
> its own researchers (and themselves) from self-archiving plagiarized or
> libellous papers -- and to take action if they do.

> Having said that, the Physics ArXiv's "legal concerns" are all a tempest
> in a teapot anyway. A central archive is a service provider. The service
> it provides is to operate an archive for authors to self-archive in. If
> an author self-archives a piece of plagiarism or libel therein, the only
> legal responsibility of the archive is to *remove* that item as soon as
> it is drawn to its attention. This is exactly the same rule as the one
> applied to other Internet service providers: If someone posts or emails
> pornography in an AOL discussion list or bulletin board, AOL does not
> become liable as a pornographer if it immediately removes the item
> as soon as it is drawn to its attention and blocks further postings
> from the poster. (The poster, of course, is the one to prosecute for
> the pornography!) It is absurd to imagine that AOL could vet all emails
> and postings in advance, to screen out pornography! It is reasonable,
> though, to insist on better identity-control, for authenticating and
> tracing the identity of posters, in case legal action needs to be taken
> against them.
> So depositor-authentication and tracing is the only thing ArXiv may need to
> shore up (as well as the capability of removing an item). Fortunately,
> institutional archives can do this much more easily and naturally with
> their own research staff!
> See the long thread:
> "Central vs. Distributed Archives"1G
> Stevan Harnad
> NOTE: Complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
> access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
> the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
> Posted discussion to:
> Dual Open-Access Strategy:
> BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
> journal whenever one exists.
> BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
> toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Thu Nov 06 2003 - 15:53:21 GMT

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