In applying to the NSF postdoctoral fellowship for mathematics, the instructions include the following paragraph for the biographical sketch:

A list of: (i) up to five products most closely related to the proposed project; and (ii) up to five other significant products, whether or not related to the proposed project. Acceptable products must be citable and accessible including but not limited to publications, data sets, software, patents, and copyrights. Unacceptable products are unpublished documents not yet submitted for publication, invited lectures, and additional lists of products. Only the list of 10 will be used in the review of the proposal.

My question is what exactly does "unpublished" mean? Is a paper uploaded to the arXiv but not yet submitted for publication in a journal considered "unpublished"?


I would interpret "published" to mean exactly what the text says — citable and accessible.

ArXiv papers are both citable and accessible, and therefore do count as acceptable research products.

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    in general, I would agree with you and count arXiv papers, as well as any self-published paper, as “published”. Yet, in these instructions, they explicitly write “not yet submitted for publication”, which I interpret as they meaning “not published in peer-review journals”… (because “submitted for publication” does not make sense in self-published or arXiv context) – F'x Oct 6 '13 at 7:32
  • @F'x I disagree. Why do you think it doesn't make sense? ArXiv explicitly uses the word "submission" in their online forms. The process of "submitting" a manuscript to arXiv looks exactly the same to me as submitting it to any journal which has an online-only pipeline. Then a moderator takes a look at it, and if it is not blatantly outrageous it is circulated the next day. And yet, unfortunately, if we believe this recent article, this might still be more than what some journals do for a peer review. – Federico Poloni Oct 6 '13 at 7:50
  • @FedericoPoloni because there is no peer review process for an ArXiv publication. – StrongBad Oct 6 '13 at 14:06
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    NSF explicitly changed its reporting requirements from "publications" to "products" a few years ago. Open-source software projects, data repositories, textbooks, and even blogs are considered acceptable research products, despite having little or no peer review. But even before this change NSF happily accepted arXiv papers as publications for reporting purposes. They really don't care about peer review as much as public dissemination. Also, applications for the NSF math postdoc are reviewed by mathematicians, who are generally natives of preprint culture. – JeffE Oct 6 '13 at 17:15
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    @JeffE: Mathematicians certainly are comfortable with preprints, but in my experience we're careful to distinguish them from publications (i.e. in peer reviewed journals). (Source: I am one.) I would think if they were acceptable here, the instructions would use the word "preprint". I agree that it is ambiguous, however, and I would welcome an official clarification. – Nate Eldredge Oct 7 '13 at 21:32

I would interpret "published" here to mean "published in a peer-reviewed journal"; it would not include posting on arXiv. If your paper hasn't at least been submitted to a journal, I don't think you can include it in your application.

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    This answer is incorrect. – JeffE Oct 6 '13 at 17:18
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    @JeffE: I said it was my interpretation, and it agrees with the way that "published" is generally used, in my experience. Of course, I'd defer to any specific information from NSF, if you can offer it. – Nate Eldredge Oct 7 '13 at 21:27
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    @fileunderwater: I am a mathematician. We certainly use arXiv a lot, but I've never heard anyone call it "publishing". It's a place to post a preprint, but it isn't published until it's in a journal. – Nate Eldredge Oct 8 '13 at 12:42
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    My statement is based on experience with NSF, as a reviewer (including proposals in DMS), grant recipient (including grants from DMS), and (many years ago) holder of an NSF math postdoc fellowship. "Published" does not mean "peer-reviewed". In any case, the proscription is against manuscripts not yet submitted for publication, not against unpublished manuscripts. So even if NSF really does mean "not yet submitted to a peer-reviewed venue"—in opposition to every other listed research product—an arXiv preprint that has merely been submitted for peer review is firmly in scope. – JeffE Oct 8 '13 at 14:26
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    @JeffE: Yes, I agree that the solicitation implies that a preprint that's been posted to arXiv and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal is acceptable. But the question was about a paper that has been posted to arXiv but not submitted for peer review; whether it should nonetheless be considered "published", simply by virtue of being on arXiv. I would say that it should not. – Nate Eldredge Oct 8 '13 at 15:25

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