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As it can be appreciated from this list of journals with varying preprint policies, certain journals consider a preprint to be "prior publication". In other fields like Chemistry, there is a strong policy against preprints.

I'm curious about those reasons, if there are other reasons, and if they hold weight.

  • This question probably borders the "open-ended" question. I would love suggestions on how to narrow downn the scope. – bobthejoe May 28 '13 at 20:56
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    Other than the obvious reason: if they can ensure the journal is the only way to read the paper, they will get more subscriptions? – Nate Eldredge May 29 '13 at 3:20
  • @NateEldredge, to this, I will attest is true. However, essentially the entire field of Chemistry believes in this philosophy and they do have some philosophical differences. – bobthejoe Jun 1 '13 at 0:11
  • @cbeleites: Let me rephrase. The journal may believe that the fewer alternative ways there are to read the articles, the more subscriptions they will get. – Nate Eldredge Jun 2 '13 at 13:23
  • @NateEldredge: for sure this seems to be a valid reason. But does it actually work out? IMHO they cannot ensure this is the only way to read the paper: there are inter-library networks, you know your colleagues, email the authors (which are usually allowed to share their manuscripts with colleagues), in some legislations there are rights to share that the author will always retain, etc. My guess is that a large number of these subscriptions is still there by inertia from the paper-journal times. For the electronic subscriptions I see a movement towards e.g. nation-wide access. ... – cbeleites Jun 2 '13 at 13:26
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A a chemist, I'm very well aware of this.

Here's the ACS Journal Editors' Policy on Preprints' point of view about the disadvantages of preprint servers:

The disadvantages of preprint servers include: the potential for flooding the literature with trivial and repetitious publications, thus making extraction of reliable and valuable information more difficult; absence of peer review; possible premature disclosure with inadequate experimental details or supporting data; premature claims of priority; potential lack of proper references and credit to prior work; abuse of multiple revisions or updates; possible lack of duration and long term archiving.

Personally, I find the two concerns about

  • "premature claims of priority" and
  • "abuse of multiple revisions or updates"

the most relevant points.

  • "flooding literature with trivial publications" is IMHO an issue with and without preprint servers,
  • "repetitious publications" for me fall into the same category, as do
  • "inadequate experimental details or supporting data".
  • "absence of peer review" is clearly visible with papers from preprint servers - which is IMHO an advantage over journals where the peer review is uncritical.
  • "long term archiving" depends IMHO more on the responsible organization behind the server (I'm not any more concerned that arXiv could shut down than e.g. Langmuir, Analyst or Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry)

There have been "experiments" with preprint servers for chemistry some 10 years ago [1] but AFAIK they did not develop the momentum e.g. arXiv has, and they seem to have died meanwhile.
See also: Cecelia Brown: The Role of Electronic Preprints in Chemical Communication: Analysis of Citation, Usage, and Acceptance in the Journal Literature, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 54.5 (2003): 362-371.
(the discussed server seems to be down - or at least I can't get a response).


Personal point of view on the problem

The possibility to be able to publish a manuscript on a preprint server before submitting it to a journal is not as imortant for me personally as the possibility to make the final contents of the paper publicly accessible.

Thus I can live quite well with not being allowed to submit manuscripts that are already available on preprint servers as long as I'm allowed to also publish the manuscript (preferrably the final version after peer-review) after I submitted it to the journal.

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One key issue to keep in mind when comparing different fields is the scale of money involved. For example, according to their financial statement, in 2012 the American Chemical Society received $421 million in revenue for electronic services, including both journals and the Chemical Abstracts Service. That's a staggering amount of money for a scholarly society. (For comparison, the American Mathematical Society's 2011 revenue from Math Reviews and journals was $15.5 million.) The ACS is the gatekeeper for publications and data that are worth a fortune to industry, so they have a powerful incentive to maintain that control. It's no coincidence that they are much less friendly towards open access, the arXiv, etc. than corresponding groups in mathematics or physics are.

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    This sounded plausible at first. But I realized that IEEE, which publishes 30% of the world's literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, is not unfriendly towards open access or arXiv. If anything, they promote OA. As for arXiv, IEEE Information Society even encourages use of it at the time of submission. Other IEEE societies might have similar policies about arXiv. Is there some supporting evidence for your claim that it is no coincidence that they are much less friendly towards open access, arXiv, etc.? I think this might just be a coincidence. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jun 3 '13 at 9:56
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    I think the Information Theory Society is far more arXiv-friendly than the rest of the IEEE, but financially the IEEE is much more like the AMS than the ACS if normalized for membership size. For example, publication and online services revenue per member: $421 million/163000 = $2600/member for ACS, $132 million/425000 = $310/member for IEEE, and $15.5 million/30000 = $520/member for AMS. I certainly don't think the finances determine everything, and it's not clear how to interpret them anyway (total size, normalized per member, etc.), but I think it's unlikely to be a total coincidence. – Anonymous Mathematician Jun 3 '13 at 13:16
  • I see. I don't know if the normalization makes sense in this context. But that may have something to do with it. Either way, what I asked wasn't if my observation on IEEE was correct. I wanted to know if your claim was based on fact (e.g., ACS's official statement that they're against arXiv for financial reasons, which I don't think is necessarily illogical or obviously unethical) or it was your speculation. If it was your speculation, that's fine. It does make sense. If there is a problem, I'd say it might be interpreted as a rude speculation that ACS is not entirely honest about the reasons. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jun 3 '13 at 14:06
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    Note however that this experiment of running a chemistry preprint server was actually initiated at an ACS meeting. I don't know what it died of (probably it wasn't widely used - I've never heard of it before I came across it yesterday) and I don't know how separate ACS publishing and ACS as a scientific society are, but my guess is that ACS publishing is still a branch of the ACS, so a political decision to go towards preprints would affect ACS as journal publisher. So I'd say that it probably also reflects a standpoint of the scientific society (at least in not being a pressing issue)... – cbeleites Jun 4 '13 at 13:49
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    ... Note also that ACS journals are more restrictive here than Elsevier's or Springer's policies for chemistry journals. - Which are possibly more independent of the politics of scientific societies (although some of their journals are the official journals of some societies). And of course, they may have been moved by pressure from more preprint-friendly sciences like mathematics. – cbeleites Jun 4 '13 at 13:54
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There are commercial reasons for journals to be the only place where the article can be obtained. (advertising on the site or in the print journal). So simply violating their policy (if stated clearly) is one valid rejection reason.

(I personally disagree with this reason but such is life)

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    Interesting point. I'm in mathematics, and I can't think of any of our research journals that carry advertising. (I'm not sure this is a principled stand, so much as that I can't imagine it being worth anyone's while to buy such ads.) – Nate Eldredge Jun 1 '13 at 4:39
  • In chemistry there may be ads in the printed journal. However, nowadays most of the papers are used in the electronic version, and I haven't come across ads there. – cbeleites Jun 2 '13 at 13:31
  • Taking at look at JACS, pubs.acs.org/journal/jacsat, I can see some ads even there. – bobthejoe Jun 6 '13 at 19:48
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As said in comment, one reason not to allow preprint publication alongside journal publication is to preserve the incentives to subscribe. To add a note to this point, let me remark that most of the preprint-friendly publishers (this adjective includes Elsevier and Springer: they don't do everything wrong) do not allow the final journal-template version of the paper to be deposited in an open repository. In other words, most publishers do forbid open distribution of published papers in some way, they draw the line at different points. Of course, drawing the line after or before the preprint version of the article makes the most important difference.

Another reason in some field, alluded to in the question, is a way to understand the pretty general policy that journals' goal is to publish novel publications. In all fields, this notably means that you are not allowed to submit to a journal a paper that has already been published. In some fields, notably humanities fields (at least in France) this extends to journal refusing to publish articles already available as preprint. As far as understand, preprints are then really seen as publications, in the sense that they are no more novel. Of course, they are not considered as publications in the same way than journal articles in CVs...

Concerning the weight of these reason, it feels to me like tradition has a lot to do with it. Some tradition are easier to sustain in some fields than others; e.g. Chemistry can ask both reader-side for subscription charges and author-side for pages or color figure charges, as the field has some money notably due to its experimental nature; such tradition would be more difficult to sustain in humanities where money is much scarcer. As another example, it might be that the strong weight of book publishing in humanities is related to this "preprint is prior publication" point of view: it is more common for publisher not to allow books to be made available, and a field where books bear at least as much importance as article for idea dissemination seems more likely to adopt the same policy for articles.

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