Wednesday, June 25, 2014

To Post or Not To Post

To post or not to post.  To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous plagiarists?  A twitter conversation today turned to a frequently engaged topic: should academics post their papers online before they are published? 

The dangers:
  • Plagiarism.  Others may use your ideas, your data, to advance their careers without citing you.
  • Review de-blinding.  Article reviewing is supposed to be double blind--the reviewer does not know who is the author, and the author does not know who the reviewer is.  If you post, unscrupulous reviewers can figure out who they are reviewing.
The advantages:
  • You get cited earlier and more often if your ideas are more easily accessed.  The twin dangers of academic publication are slow and gated--that it takes a long time to get stuff out and published and that gated journals means that people cannot access your ideas.  But if you put up working papers, then they can get access earlier and they can continue to have access after you submit the final version to a gated outlet.
  • Our job is to disseminate our ideas.  That is pretty much one of the defining characteristics of a researching professor.  So, anything that makes it easier to share our "knowledge creation" is a good thing.
I lean heavily on the pro-side of posting.  I have several papers that have decent citation records.  I have not thus far been a victim of plagiarism.  Getting scooped by someone who steals your ideas can absolutely suck, but posting can protect as it can help you stake your claim and prove that your idea is your idea.

As google.scholar has supplanted the social science citation index in many ways, the citation of working papers can help in tenure/promotion/hiring as citation counts are, ahem, cited by those writing tenure letters and those in the committees making the decisions. 

One other risk of posting--you may end up revising your paper in ways that show that your previous paper is wrong.  Ooops.  But that is an acceptable risk.  I have been in two boxes of someone's lit review for having ideas that have evolved (federalism is bad, federalism is good).  Means I am cited twice!

To get back to plagiarism, people can plagiarize your published work as much as your posted work, so it just speeds up the process perhaps.  On the bright side, if people (mostly students) steal your work and there is a suspicion, your uploaded paper makes it easier to document the plagiarism.  I know that via my experiences in dealing with plagiarists.

Thanks to @julia_azari @laiabalcells @kesearles for the conversation today that inspired this post.

I am sure that I have forgotten some key aspects of this stuff, but lunch is calling.

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