Monday, January 29, 2018

Publishing: Why are we doing it right and other sciences aren't?

(NOTE- this is NOT a `we hate Elsevier and the others' post- though I suspect the comments will be about that.)

Alexandra Elbakyan has created a repository of science papers for scientists to share. She did this because too many papers were behind paywalls. An article about her (and the inspiration for this post) is here. Note that she has had some legal problems.

But it got me thinking: I have rarely had a problem getting an article. Between authors websites and arXiv most of what I want is out there.  Lance and others I've asked agree--- while there are problems with editors and publishes etc, access is NOT one of them.

Why don't other scientists just routinely do this?

some speculation but if someone actually knows please comment

1) Some scientists purposely don't post on line to avoid being scooped. Or the fear of that

2) Some scientists don't post for fear of legal issues with publishing. I do not know of a single computer scientist or mathematician that has gotten in any kind of trouble for posting a paper on their website or arXiv.

3) Some scientists are lazy.

4) (This contrasts with Comp Sci) other fields do things the way they do since they ALWAYS did it that way. Comp Sci is a younger field and hence is less tied to tradition.

5) Other scientists ARE posting their papers (gee, then why did Alexandra have to create the reporistory).

6) Alexandar is where arxiv was X years ago. They'll catch up. But they are having legal problems-- did arXiv ever have legal problems?

Looking over these I'm not sure I believe any of them. Any other ideas?

Again, the question is: Why don't other fields routinely post to something like arXiv or their own websites?


  1. "Why are we doing it right"

    Are we though? Sure, the arXiv is great and all, but is the rest of our publishing process the right thing to do?

    At SODA recently, the topic of whether or not our community should consider moving to double-blind reviews was brought up and there was a lot of discussion around it -- see, e.g., Michael Mitzenmacher's blog post:

    1. There are many many problems with how publishing is done today- enough for other blog posts. I only meant that we are doing things right in terms of access. Though the next comment disagrees with that so even that may be wrong.

  2. No, you're WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, i.e. it may just be a coincidence that YOU and a few colleagues have no problem getting each other papers in your specific field(s) of interest but for anyone else not in academia over 90% of papers are behind ridiculously expensive paywalls.
    And I am talking precisely about computer science papers, did you really read about the SciHub coverage?
    Computer science and maths are among the largest parts of the repository.

    1. My experience is:
      Comp Sci Theory papers- almost always on arXiv or the authors website.

      Math papers- a mixed bag but often on arXiv. Here I AM lucky in that Ramsey THeory papers seem to always be on arXiv- other branches of math I do not know.

      Outside of that I do not know. So perhaps the `we' in
      the `what are we doing right' should be more precise and made into a question rather than a statement:

      `Are most computer science theory papers readily available online'

      In my experience yes. Is this just my experience? That would seem odd.

      And how about my other question- why aren't other scientists posting their papers on their websites or in something like arXiv?

  3. You seem to live in bubble. Many computer science theory papers are NOT readily available on line. In physics, yes. In math, it depends on the area.

    1. Could you give some examples of more or less fresh papers? Because I have the same experience as the OP.

  4. >Comp Sci Theory papers- almost always on arXiv or the authors website.

    Sure, but some of these papers appear on arXiv way too late. By the time they appear on arXiv, the paper has already been accepted by a conference for N months, and has been circulated among the people that belong to the prestigious inner circle of the area for 3N months.

    It happened to me several times already that when I mentioned to others about a paper that'd just appeared on archive, the response was that "Oh this result was known for a while."

    1. Isn't it the normal situation? People do not want to publish half-baked results but the ok with sending it to their colleagues.

      Another reason is that, very often, people write up their results for some conferences and publish after receiving some feedback from people and reviewers.

    2. Or, they already have a follow-up result ready that improved on the one that's just appeared on arXiv.

  5. Yes, some scientists are lazy, and, there are pre-electronic papers from the 1970s and 1980s.

  6. arXiv, arXiv, arXiv yay