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The perils of preprints

>From a Metro-North trainride this past weekend:

The November 15th Economist, P. 75, offers a short boxed piece called
"Perishing Publishing."  Here is a chunk of it; also the longer article
connected to it (referenced herein) is worth reading.


Economist, 00130613, 11/15/2003, Vol. 369, Issue 8350

Section: Science and technology 
More on gamma-ray bursts 

Perishing publishing "Pre-printing" scientific papers electronically is a
good idea. But it has its perils

GAMMA-RAY bursts (see previous article) have created more than just
scientific debate. Sir Martin Rees, England's Astronomer Royal (these days
an honorific title; Sir Martin is also a professor at Cambridge
University), has become embroiled in a controversy that raises questions
about the way that scientific papers are published.

In the olden days, a group of researchers would bang out their paper on
paper. They would submit it to a journal. They would wait several months
for it to be accepted (or not) and then several more for it to be
published. Though long winded, this allowed time for reflection by both
authors and the independent referees who the provide "peer review". This
helped to keep the scientific process accurate.

The world wide web has changed that. Now, physics papers often get
"pre-printed" on a website (www.arxiv.org) before they have gone through
the grinding process of review and revision. This can lead to

In the case of Sir Martin, the misunderstanding was over who first came up
with the idea that the gamma rays in bursts are generated by inverse
Compton scattering. In September, he and his colleagues pre-printed a
paper on the subject which did not acknowledge the contribution to the
field of two researchers called Arnon Dar and Nir Shaviv. This is the sort
of omission that peer review is intended to correct, but Dr Dar got in
touch anyway, and Sir Martin agreed to make the change in the published
version, which is about to come out in a journal called Monthly Notices of
the Royal Astronomical Society.

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