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Late last week Stan Friesen brought up the possibility of posting preprints of
scientific papers to either home pages or discussion sites (e-mail).
On the surface this seems like a good idea mainly because one might get
considerable feedback in the form of general, gratedious peer review. This
would facilitate the availablility of the authors data and analysis into the
arean of public discussion. Thru the resultant interactions, the manuscript
might indeed be improved. Communication within the community would be
much quicker than if the material went through trtaditonal editorial
Howerver, there are some down sides to this process. The posting ofmanuscri
pts or data sets mean that unedited material enters the process. The text has
not been reviewed or edited, other than the author no one has questioned theapp
roperiateness of the statistical analysis, nor has the experimental design
been reviewed. From the authors position, this is risky.
It is important that the author be very clear as to the intent of the
posting. If it is considered a publication, then having the material in a
print journal may be duplicate publication.
It seems to me that haveing a body of data or literature on 'the net'
leads to problems of sttribution. Should the material, with no editorial
review, be made available in an archived form. How would it be cited by
subsequent authors. What if the material is subsequently changed
substantially following review or even rejected when submitted to a journal.
Would it be removed from the electronic database? Or, what if the paper
is rejected by several journals, should it be retracted from the electronic
archived. How would readers in the future find out about this?
I would also recommend caution as to what precisely is the subject.
For example, in order to describe a new species, there are conventionsset by in
ternational bodies. Priorty set in cyberspace is not (at the present) the
same as priority set by the current standards.
As a scientist I would think twice before taking a manuscript and posting
it for general comments. I'm not sure what would be gained.
It could be that the very specific problem, circulation of a pre-print,
might be useful. In this case, a pri-print is a copy of a manuscript that
has been accepted (not in review) for publication. This provides a
courtesy to a few interested colleagues and can be useful if the publication