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I am currently doing my PhD in Economics in a UK university and have a couple of working papers —one of them almost finished—. Each of these working papers corresponds to one chapter in my PhD Thesis, which is in the field of Game Theory (Theoretical Microeconomics). I am expected to complete my PhD Thesis with a total of three chapters. This month, I am presenting one of my chapters in a couple of relevant conferences in my field, and have been asked whether there is an available working paper that can be checked (and perhaps circulated and cited). Whether one should make his/her working papers public is a question that depends on the field one is working on. To be honest, I do not know what to do because I do not know what is the standard practice in my field.

Some time ago, all my working papers were available on my personal website via a public Google Drive link. However, I decided to make them private because I was afraid of getting my ideas stolen by other researchers. Now I do not know what to do. On the one hand, I see the benefits of making my working papers public: I may get useful feedback and may also get my paper some attention before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal. On the other hand, I’m afraid of other researchers publishing my work under their name, and I am also afraid of reputable journals rejecting my submissions on the basis that they have been published as working papers prior to being submitted to the journal.

I currently have three options:

  • To make them public in my website via a Google Drive public link;
  • To make them public by uploading them to arxiv.org (or some similar repository);
  • To keep them private and unavailable to the public.

With this post, I would like to ask fellow theoretical economists what they think I should do. I am inclined to upload my working papers to arxiv.org, but I do not know whether reputable journals in my field will reject my submissions because of that. I am also not sure whether this is a useful measure at all against the theft of ideas.

I am a newbie in academia, and therefore any help will be much appreciated.

Thank you all very much for your time.

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    If you know which journals you plan to submit to, you can easily check whether their policies allow upload to arXiv by looking them up on Sherpa/Romeo. Jun 30 at 15:02
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    Excellent comment, thank you very much!
    – Héctor
    Jun 30 at 15:02
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    Not an answer, but ssrn might be more pertinent than arxiv for economics.
    – henning
    Jun 30 at 15:51
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    I don't know about the area of economics but my advisor published several papers and conference articles and correspondences that were variations on a theme. Therefore, you could make a distinct publication that isn't the same as your paper, if needed. Jun 30 at 15:52
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Many researchers in theoretical economics publish their works on ArXiv or similar venues. No semi-reputable researcher will dream of stealing ideas that were already published in a preprint. This is of course not an ironclad promise - there exist bad actors that will absolutely steal your ideas if you put them up online, but these instances are very rare.

To ensure that this does not happen, I strongly suggest that you

  1. Position this work as yours, by presenting it at seminars, workshops and the like.
  2. Work towards getting your ideas published sooner rather than later.
  3. Discuss your work on social media: putting a link to the ArXiv version on twitter with a few words describing your work is excellent both for outreach and for establishing your ownership.

In the long term, disseminating your work is a strictly dominant strategy over keeping it to yourself. This is especially true in a relatively fast-moving field like game theory: I think that the risk of having someone else scooping your work and publishing faster than you is much greater than the risk of someone stealing your work outright.

Put another way, the field of game theory (and most other scientific disciplines, I would imagine) is populated by a lot more brilliant, hungry researchers who will scoop you than unscrupulous actors who will steal your work. In that kind of ecosystem, it's much better to publicize your work.

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    Thank you for your comment. Where you write “arrive” in the first sentence, you mean “arxiv”?
    – Héctor
    Jun 30 at 15:37
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    Of course, thanks autocorrect!
    – Spark
    Jun 30 at 15:59
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Publishers seem to work under one of three (at least) models.

Some will prohibit prepublication and won't consider anything that has previously appeared. My guess is that this model is slowly disappearing.

Some journals encourage preprints of articles where the author(s) upload the preprints to some site. In mathematics, for example, this seems to be current practice pretty widely.

Some journals will, themselves, upload papers to a preprint service before final versions are finalized.

Separately, many journals will publish final versions online as well as in print.

But, for any paper you expect to submit to a specific journal, you need to explore what their policy is. Perhaps there is a (more or less) standard for economics, but don't make assumptions. Explore the journal's website or ask an editor directly.

Of course, "work in progress" can mean a lot of things. It may be that a paper based on that work is sufficiently different from what was previously visible that it becomes less of an issue for a journal.

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    To find out which model applies, check Sherpa/Romeo, as @David Ketcheson remarks above.
    – henning
    Jun 30 at 15:54

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