ArXiv at 20 : Nature : Nature Publishing Group
L’histoire des dépôts d’articles scientifiques. J’avais envie de tout citer. Un must indispensable.
Twenty years ago this month, I launched an electronic bulletin board intended to serve a few hundred friends and colleagues working in a subfield of theoretical high-energy physics.
Even today, fields vary hugely in how they recognize intellectual precedence. It baffles me that scientists in some fields can announce a result in a public forum, such as a meeting, while another group can reproduce the results, publish first in a journal, and be given complete intellectual precedence, as though the information did not exist until vetted by the referee process. Journal editors and referees should make more effort to ensure proper attribution is given to publicly accessible materials in a stable resource, such as arXiv.
Again, because of cost and labour overheads, arXiv would not be able to implement conventional peer review. Even the minimal filtering of incoming preprints to maintain basic quality control involves significant daily administrative activity. Incoming abstracts are given a cursory glance by volunteer external moderators for appropriateness to their subject areas; and various automated filters, including a text classifier, flag problem submissions. Although the overall rate of such submissions is well below 1%, they tend to cluster in specific areas (such as general relativity, quantum mechanics and unified theories in physics; proofs of the Riemann hypothesis, Goldbach’s conjecture and new proofs of Fermat’s last theorem in mathematics; P versus NP problem in computer science).
Moderators, tasked with determining what is of potential interest to their communities, are sometimes forced to ascertain ’what is science?’ At this point arXiv unintentionally becomes an accrediting agency for researchers, much as the Science Citation Index became an accrediting agency for journals, by formulating criteria for their inclusion. Although decisions are biased towards permissiveness, inevitably some authors object that it is never permissive enough.
Configuring scholarly communication infrastructure for the next generation of researchers requires getting into the heads of current undergraduates and graduate students. Their life experience is of immediate online availability and global search engines, and they arrive imbued with the social-network mentality of sharing links, photos, videos and status updates.
Students also say that they search preferentially for open-access resources when working from home, because accessing subscription-based journals, even when available through an institutional proxy, can be frustratingly painful.
On arXiv, we have seen some of the unintended effects of an entire global research community ingesting the same information from the same interface on a daily basis. The order in which new preprint submissions are displayed in the daily alert, if only for a single day, strongly affects the readership on that day and leaves a measurable trace in the citation record fully six years later2, 3. Some researchers, wise to this, time their submissions to arrive just after the daily afternoon deadline to maximize their prominence in the next day’s mailing.