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I recently wrote an editorial article which referenced several national (UK) reports. These are typically freely available as pdf files online via institutions like the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council and so on. They are not published articles in peer reviewed journals but are major and important pieces of work. When I referenced these reports in my editorial, I initially referenced them as online sources (with date accessed, date published and the URL where they are available from).

During the course of peer review and submitting to journals, one of the national reports (from 2015) disappeared from its URL which was not permanent. The organisation probably removed it as it was old. I had saved a pdf copy of the report. It was no longer easy to find a copy online and the one place I found it was not a professional website URL (just some person's blogging site or something like that).

My question is, to future-proof my article from reports like this disappearing from non-permanent URL, can (and should) I load my "hard copy" pdf into a repository and provide a permanent location to the report. This can be done with OSF, Zenodo etc and it would then be permanently available with a DOI.

Otherwise any URL cited can just be changed or the report can be made unavailable any time.

Alternatively, should I just leave the "date accessed" as an old date (from a time when the report could be accessed) and readers would understand than the reports might not be there in future?

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  • Check the copyright. I don't know anything about UK copyright. In the US, you could put a national report anywhere because all US Gov't works are in the public domain and not subject to copyright. – Richard Erickson Jan 21 at 16:02
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    'one of the national reports (from 2015) disappeared from its URL... It was no longer easy to find a copy online' Did you try entering the original URL into the Wayback Machine? – Daniel Hatton Jan 21 at 16:17
  • @Richard Erickson. The copyright is with the BMA as marked on the report. There is no licence (eg CC BY-NC-ND) marked on the report but as far as I know it was freely distributed and no money had to paid for it at any point. – croc7415 Jan 24 at 5:34
  • @ Daniel Hatton. I did not know the Wayback Machine but I tried it and the URL is not found there and the Wayback Machine states that it "has not archived that URL". – croc7415 Jan 24 at 5:35
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It would be very good to upload the reports in a repository, for the reasons you give. You can do it provided this is not explicitly forbidden by a copyright statement on the reports. If the copyright status is absent or unclear, do it anyway, the worst that can happen is that you are asked to remove a report. (This once happened to me after I posted financial data on journal subscriptions on my blog, but these data had never been made public before.)

Asking the authors may not succeed, why would they do it now if they did not do it previously? On the other hand, it would be nice to inform them after you post the reports.

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  • So as far as I know, it would be impossible (or very difficult) to remove as the doi which is assigned (e.g.) by Zenodo as a data repository upload (or as a preprint upload) would be permanent and non-editable. I do agree though, I think it would be desirable to put this into a data repository as permanently available "data" associated with my published editorial. Once a national report is out there online, it should continue to be accessible, unless the people publishing it online took steps to control this - which they did not and there is no reason I can see why they would. – croc7415 Jan 24 at 5:39
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It would depend on the policies of the preprint server, but I'm not aware of any that would accept a "preprint" submission from someone other than the reports' authors.

A better long-term approach would be to contact the British Medical Association and ask them to register their own DOIs for these repots. They already register DOIs for their journal articles, so it's not such a huge stretch to think they could do it for reports or other less-formal publications. Of course, that would mean they would have to commit to making the reports persistently available, which it seems like they don't want to do.

In the short-term, using the "date accessed" format for your citation should be sufficient.

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  • -1: You do not need to be an author to submit to Arxiv. Even journals and robots can submit to Arxiv. I do not know about other preprint servers, but I do not find an explicit ban on submission by non-authors to Biorxiv or Medrxiv. – Sylvain Ribault Jan 21 at 15:11
  • @SylvainRibault bioRxiv and medRxiv both require that "all its authors have consented to its deposition"; arXiv only allows proxies in very specific circumstances and also requires an original author to have approved the metadata. None of these services would allow submitting a third-party report without the involvement of the authors. – Andrew Jan 21 at 22:39
  • The relevant guidelines for third party submissions to Arxiv are here: arxiv.org/help/third_party_submission . In practice Arxiv seems quite tolerant with special cases that fall outside the guidelines, such as dead authors. – Sylvain Ribault Jan 22 at 7:31
  • So the way preprints are used and processed is actually quite complex (or at least varied) depending on several factors. For instance, in maths, they are very much accepted but they are an emerging trend in the biomedical sciences. Each preprint server has different rules. Zenodo allows upload of preprints and data with only the uploader being responsible for what they upload. As the user anpami pointed out, I should really have said "data repository" rather than preprint server. Some will accept data, supplementary materials, preprints (pre peer review), postprints (accepted version) etc. – croc7415 Jan 24 at 5:57
  • Even if Arxiv is flexible, and you could use this as a workaround, that doesn't mean you should. Preprint servers aren't archives. They're not intended to persistently maintain content that the original publisher doesn't want to steward. It's misleading to call something a preprint that's not a preprint, which is what the metadata that accompanies the DOI will say it is. A more general repository (especially one that accepts postprints) would be more suitable. – Shayn Jan 25 at 13:54
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Online sources are "liquid". Some have thus suggested to "freeze" them as durable PDFs and to make them available in a repository as supplementary material (I might have seen this suggestion here). This ensures transparency and replicabilty.

So, I would say: Yes, the approach you think about seems fine. There should not be any legal issues if the documents were publicly shared from an official organ.

(Here is one example of a Dataverse which contains "frozen PDFs" to support the findings of a research article that relied on many web sources.)


By the way, there is a terminological issue here: I would not call it a preprint. This label would indicate that it was an original manuscript written by you that has not yet made it to the publication stage at a scholarly journal. But you mention data repositories, and this is correct. To be sure, some of them also allow you to post pre-prints. But for the present context, it is their function as data repositories that counts here.

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  • This is a good point. Especially about the "preprint" vs data repository. In fact, each pre-print / repository server has specific rules about this. For example, preprints.org will accept only a preprint manuscript (the author's version before peer review) and will not accept this if it has already been accepted by a journal (i.e. they won't accept anything else). Zenodo will accept preprints and "data" and one can have a doi for the uploaded raw data (e.g. for a scientific article). So it's better thinking of this national report as my article's "data" and putting it in a permanent repository – croc7415 Jan 24 at 5:43

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