Neylon 2017 F1000Research

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Neylon 2017 F1000Research

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Neylon C, Pattinson D, Bilder G, Lin J (2017) On the origin of nonequivalent states: How we can talk about preprints [version 1; referees: 2 approved]. F1000Research 6:608

» F1000Research Open Access

Neylon C, Pattinson D, Bilder G, Lin J (2017) F1000Research

Abstract: Increasingly, preprints are at the center of conversations across the research ecosystem. But disagreements remain about the role they play. Do they “count” for research assessment? Is it ok to post preprints in more than one place? In this paper, we argue that these discussions often conflate two separate issues, the history of the manuscript and the status granted it by different communities. In this paper, we propose a new model that distinguishes the characteristics of the object, its “state”, from the subjective “standing” granted to it by different communities. This provides a way to discuss the difference in practices between communities, which will deliver more productive conversations and facilitate negotiation, as well as sharpening our focus on the role of different stakeholders on how to collectively improve the process of scholarly communications not only for preprints, but other forms of scholarly contributions.

Bioblast editor: Gnaiger E

Selected quotations

  • There exists no universal standard of when an output is considered as part of the formal scholarly record. Rather, it is determined by particular groups in particular contexts.
  • The very word “preprint” is an odd combination of retronym and synecdoche. A preprint is increasingly unlikely to ever be a precursor to anything that is physically printed onto paper. At the same time, that use of “print" takes one small part of scholarly publishing to stand in for the entire process. A preprint is different from a working paper, yet both are entirely different to an academic blog post. Additionally, all these appear in designated online repositories as digital documents that are recognizably structured as scholarly objects. Some preprints are shared with the future intent of formal publication in a journal or monograph. But not all. The term is used to mean a host of different things, and as such, remains referentially opaque.
  • SHERPA, a UK organisation dedicated to studying scholarly communication, has a more precise definition for preprints: “the version of the paper before peer review” [Neylon C, Pentz E, Tananbaum G (2014) Standardized metadata elements to identify access and license information. Informations Systems Quarterly 26:35–7]. They then define versions between acceptance and publication by a journal as "post-prints."
  • To “publish” a work can mean three entirely different things: the labour of preparing a work for its dissemination, to communicate or make public a work, or in the narrow sense we use in the academy, to make available through designated channels after specified social and technical processes. “Preprint” is positioned and often defined in relation to “publish”, in a way that adds to the ambiguity of both terms.
  • Saying a preprint “is not published” or “is not in a journal” merely shifts the ambiguity to the question of what “published” means or what counts as a “journal.”
  • Some researchers simply see a preprint as an early notification or preview of a “formal” publication. For others it is a complete finding and a clear claim of priority in the scholarly literature. These differences are most often due to differences in disciplinary cultures.
  • We can in fact fruitfully engage across disciplinary boundaries and have productive discussions about preprints and the value of different kinds of scholarly communication. But to achieve this we must recognise when our differences are matters of fact (what process has an object been through) and differences in opinion and values between communities.
  • The “state” of a research object is comprised of the external, objectively determinable characteristics of the object. This includes records of claims made about the object, metadata, statements of validation processes the object has undergone, etc.
  • The “standing” of a research object is the position, status, or reputation of an object. It is a consequence of its history and state.
  • For the High Energy Physics community (and others in theoretical physics), posting to ArXiv establishes the priority of claims and discoveries. In many ways, ArXiv preprints are seen as equivalent to formally published articles, and many physicists will preferentially read articles at ArXiv rather than find copies in journals.
  • By contrast, working papers on SSRN are seen much more as works in progress. .. The differences are not obvious from an examination of state, but are situated in differences in standing.
  • By connecting state and standing, and recognising that each has an influence over the other – state directly on standing, standing by privileging certain changes of state – we aim to show how the intertwined relationship is at the core of conferring value across scholarly communities.
  • Publishers, including preprint repositories, can better serve their communities by making state changes much clearer, more explicit, and transparent. It is impossible for us to make progress in discussing standing when we cannot clearly define what the state is. We cannot discuss the difference in standing between a preprint, a journal editorial, and a research article without knowing what review or validation process each has gone through. We need a shift from “the version of record” to “the version with the record”.