The arXiv.org site helps developing world researchers ensure their papers are not short shrifted by reviewers and original ideas get due credit, says Praveen Chaddah.
Researchers from developing countries worry whether they are at a disadvantage when submitting research papers for publication in international journals. Will reviewers be more sceptical towards a byline from a developing country?
Authors from developing countries feel that reviewers raise queries that they would not ask authors from developed countries and, consequently, the time interval between the first submission of their paper and its final publication is much longer than average. What if a paper from another group, with somewhat similar ideas, and submitted to another reviewer or journal, gets published meanwhile? How can they protect and ensure credit for their original research?
In material science research, scientists not only discover materials with drastically new properties, but they also progress through deeper understanding of old and new materials. The discovery of new materials with better properties can result in economically relevant marketable products, and scientists are conscious that they must seek patents to protect their interests.
Even when no economic potential is envisaged, scientists would like to get credit for their original ideas. Can we guide students and researchers in developing countries on how to ensure credit for their ideas?
Benefits of arXiv.org
The arXiv.org site, hosted and operated by Cornell University library, seems one solution to address these concerns. It is a popular e-print archive site that allows uploads of research articles in various branches of science. Though there are moderators and subject advisory boards, they are no substitute for peer review. Most (though not all) journals allow upload of manuscripts on this site before publication. Many authors upload their papers on this site after publication in high impact journals like Nature because downloads from this site are free, encouraging greater dissemination.
There are several benefits of uploading on arXiv.org before publication. For one, the date of uploading on the arXiv.org site protects the author’s claim to an original piece of work. The public release date is usually the next working day, and human access before public dissemination is minimal, though not zero. This is important when there is a time gap between the first submission of the paper to a journal, and its final publication. It is during this time interval that we worry most about credit being usurped by someone gaining unauthorised access to the manuscript.
The brief listing (equivalent of the contents page of a journal) has a title and a ‘comments’ where a major result can be highlighted. In a journal this cannot be done in the contents page; it can be done only within the abstract. Thus, all readers of even the briefest reference to this work on the arXiv.org site will get to read the result highlighted by the authors in the ‘comments’.
How arXiv.org helped
In early 2008, we had submitted a manuscript to a respected physics journal, and it was rejected without even seeking peer review. But we still believed that it was an important idea, and we uploaded it on arXiv.org in May 2008 and stated our belief under ‘comments’ that appears with the title . The manuscript finally appeared in another reputed physics journal after about eight months . The uploading on arXiv.org kept us from wasting time worrying and fretting, and our work progressed with more publications, totalling six uploads on arXiv.org, with four of them appearing in peer-reviewed journals.
Three years later, another group from a developed country also published a paper with a similar idea in the same journal . We informed the editors, and provided them with a listing of our six uploads on arXiv.org. Thanks to our arXiv.org upload and subsequent follow up papers by us (and others from India), our claim to the idea was sustained by the journal and an erratum appeared .
Updates and correction
Besides protection from unauthorised usage, uploading on the arXiv.org site provides the same learning (and correcting) opportunities that a pre-submission seminar does to a Ph. D. student, but with the benefit of a much wider audience.
In case the authors modify the manuscript, the new version is also immediately available; the latest version becomes the default download. Besides corrections, they can also include supporting results obtained subsequent to the publication of the corresponding journal paper; in a journal a fresh paper has to be submitted, which is likely to be rejected on the grounds that this has only incremental value and is not a substantial piece of work.
The arXiv.org model of providing the updated version as the default download should also be pursued by reputed journals, especially in updates that correct for possible plagiarism.
Bypassing editorial bias
Finally, if researchers feel particularly dissatisfied with the limited correction decided by journal editors, they can upload a Comment on arXiv.org, as we did . This is another advantage of arXiv.org.
Praveen Chaddah is director of India’s University Grants Commission-Department of Atomic Energy’s Consortium for Scientific Research, which offers sophisticated experimental facilities for university physics students across India.
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5. P Chaddah and A Banerjee, arXiv:1107.1942