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If someone has a paper which could be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but they choose to not publish it in a peer-reviewed journal, what can they do to help the research to be taken seriously? By "taken seriously," I mean that this paper would not be significantly disadvantaged; that is, a typical researcher would assume that this paper is roughly comparable to similar papers in a peer-reviewed journal.

Many academics view peer review as currently practiced as indicating credibility of the work. I completed a PhD last year and currently work in a non-research job. I am working on a few papers on the side. I have published peer-reviewed journal articles and reviewed some articles before, but I find the review process to be typically superficial and slow. I barely have the time to do the research in the first place, much less time to format the paper to the journal style, respond to reviewers, etc. I also would like to publish open-access but can not afford the fees. In my case I think publishing in a peer-reviewed journal as they exist today fails a cost-benefit analysis. I'm not interested in debating these points here, so take them as given for the sake of argument.

At present I'm thinking about publishing on preprint websites and leaving it at that. I know from experience that many people won't take me seriously if I do that, so I am curious if anyone has advice for being taken seriously publishing outside of the typical peer-reviewed ecosystem.

Note: Assume that I am not a crank and that the content of the paper is similar to that of any normal preprint which is eventually published in a peer-reviewed journal. There are many webpages that give advice to cranks and those webpages are not helpful to me. The question is about how to make a paper which could be published in a peer-reviewed journal but is not have the credibility to most researchers of being published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Related: How should I interpret a promising preprint that was never published in a peer-reviewed journal?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; some info has been edited into the post, and this conversation has been moved to chat. Please see this post before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Sep 28 at 16:16
  • i have a dumb question: how exactly is this different from asking in general how to be like an independent researcher?
    – BCLC
    Sep 29 at 10:29
  • 3
    @BCLC An independent researcher could publish in peer-reviewed journals and not have this problem (many do). An independent researcher who doesn't publish in peer-reviewed journals also might not care about being respected.
    – JEs9X
    Sep 29 at 13:40
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I’m happy to assume your premise that you are not a crank and the research you generate is comparable in quality to mainstream research that gets published in peer-reviewed journals.

Here’s the problem though: it’s not me you’re trying to impress. The academics who you are hoping will “take your work seriously” are not assuming that premise. And it’s not because they’re mean or snobbish; rather, they cannot afford to assume your premise, because they are living in a world where there are a lot of cranks, and there are a lot of people who may not be outright cranks but are legitimate researchers who nonetheless sometimes generate mediocre or not-very-good research that other researchers don’t want to waste their time reading. So, what the academics you are trying to impress need is a credible signal that will tell them that your work is likely correct, and more worth paying attention to than all the other papers clamoring for their attention. There is simply not enough time to look at all the work being put out there, even legitimate, serious work that does get published in peer reviewed journals.

Now, a mechanism that produces such credible signals (or the best approximation to them that anyone’s been able to come up with) exists. It’s called peer review, and you say you don’t want to use it, and have your reasons which you’re asking me not to question. Well, fine, like I said I won’t question your premises, but the question remains: where are you going to get your credible signal that replaces peer review?

I don’t have an answer to that question, and for that reason I believe what you are hoping to achieve is basically impossible — unless your work is at such an amazing level that it will immediately attract attention and the appropriate level of scrutiny based on its obvious stellar quality and merit. In math, announcements of breakthrough proofs of famous conjectures do get taken seriously when the people making them have a modest amount of credibility and a quick look at the work convinces serious researchers that it’s worth their time to dig deeper. But with “normal”, non-breakthrough research, you’d have a hard time getting anyone to care about what you’re doing without going through the normal process.

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  • "where are you going to get your credible signal that replaces peer review? I don’t have an answer to that question" Really? I can think of one right off of the top of my head.
    – nick012000
    Sep 27 at 14:35
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    @nick012000 Want to share? I'm sure if it worked, it would be both relevant to the question at hand, and extremely valuable in general (given how overworked the current peer review process is). Sep 27 at 15:17
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    At least, other ways have been tried. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill However, I wouldn't suggest this one.
    – Pere
    Sep 27 at 18:15
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    @lalala Perhaps that's how it is in math, but I don't work in math and as I said in the question, my experience is that peer review is typically quite superficial. I doubt many reviews outside of math go over every step of the reviewed paper. It seems to me that the main way to get someone else to check every step is to catch the attention of someone more interested in rigor.
    – JEs9X
    Sep 28 at 13:57
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    With uncontroversial documents, I've been told, repeatedly, as a referee (for math, in the U.S.), that it is not my job to certify correctness of all details... :) Sep 28 at 20:43
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In mathematics, currently, it seems to me that if you have some good, interesting ideas and can present them well, and put documents on arXiv, people will look at them.

I look at arXiv daily (and, also, web pages of people I know) for new things. I rarely look at on-line versions of "peer-reviewed journals", because all that stuff is a year or two out of date (given the glacial slowness of the refereeing process...), and, anyway, would have either been on arXiv a year or two earlier, or someone would have told me about it.

I gather that some parts of physics treat their arXiv more seriously than some mathematicians seem to want to treat our arXiv.

I have no idea about other fields.

Certainly it's best to have already cultivated some sort of reputation/credibility before "rebelling". :)

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  • 1
    But if there's a paper that was posted an arXiv 10 years ago and is still arXiv-only, how do you feel about it now? Sep 27 at 15:24
  • 3
    @MishaLavrov, I myself don't care much whether or not something is arXiv-only, unless it makes unlikely claims that I'd have difficulty verifying for myself. Further, if it contained good ideas, other people might have taken them up themselves, and borne out the promise of those ideas. That's a stronger confirmation than "peer review". Sep 27 at 16:11
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    You can't really apply for jobs just having preprints on arXiv though, so not publishing research articles in journals is at least going to make finding a job difficult.
    – Tom
    Sep 27 at 16:31
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    It's also interesting the extent to which articles can be published in good journals and then sort of ''languish'' unknown (especially if the author is not well known), Compare this to arXiv, where work is very visible and readily available.
    – Tom
    Sep 27 at 19:15
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    This is a tricky one regarding stuff which stays on arXiv for a decade without being published. Lohkamp's claimed proof of the positive mass theorem in arbitrary dimension has been on arXiv since 2016 and not published as far as I know due to the controversy over the techniques which he employed.
    – Tom
    Sep 27 at 19:18
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It is possible to do what you want, but, it takes more work than going through the standard process. At one time there was no such system and people got a reputation by sending off their work to other scholars. Many had patrons who helped give them a bit of visibility.

So, in actuality, the journal/publishing system is an attempt at an optimization, by giving a third party an incentive to help you get your work seen. An added feature is that a reader can have some confidence that other experts in the field have "blessed" the validity of the work by reviewing it.

The problem with the old system, is that every reader has to verify every paper independently and so reputation grew only very slowly and not very "far".

But, you can send your work to those you think are interested and carry on conversations about it if they respond. You can publish preprints, but, again, no reader has automatic confidence in your work until you already have an established reputation.

The current system isn't perfect, but we haven't managed to replace it with one with different positive incentives than are present in the journal system (money, primarily). There are other possibilities, and some are being tested, such as open publishing, but it is difficult to cover the long term cost without some incentives.

It isn't essential that people make a profit from publishing, but it is essential that the costs get covered if you want long-term availability.

One way to build a reputation in some fields, however, is to attend lots of conferences, though you won't be a presenter. But most conferences give you an opportunity to meet people between sessions and talk to them about their (and your) ideas. You can, in theory, establish a circle of collaborators this way, but most of them will want to publish (and then present in conferences), so you are more likely to be a 'junior' partner in their work than if you were on the podium also. This was also not a possibility in the far past. But conferences (and the associated travel) are expensive. So, it is more likely to be open to the independently wealthy.

A third method is to somehow get tenure (good luck with that if you don't publish) and then let your students do the publishing of ideas you develop jointly. You will get a reputation through them if you are successful at it, but it still depends on some sort of publishing system, probably with peer review.

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  • Conferences are time-consuming and expensive. Not sure whether this will help OP.
    – usr1234567
    Sep 27 at 12:42
  • @usr1234567 We aren't here to question why the OP doesn't want to publish. Conferences are not publishing.
    – Yakk
    Sep 28 at 19:15
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    @Yakk, actually, in some fields, conferences are the main publishing venue, via proceedings. CS is like that, for example.
    – Buffy
    Sep 28 at 20:18
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    @Buffy My apologies; please add "in a peer-reviewed journal" after my use of the word "publish" and "publishing".
    – Yakk
    Sep 28 at 20:23
  • @Yakk, conference papers in CS are actually reviewed. But the process is much faster - one of its benefits.
    – Buffy
    Sep 28 at 20:31
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What is the purpose of all this?

The goal of publishing, ultimately, is to communicate your ideas to other researchers. Peer review is supposed to help with that: to give you few more eyes to look at your work and - supposedly - ask you questions a wider audience would have upon reading your work.

Side note - I must admit there is an argument barely anyone is reading academic work, raising questions about its cost efficiency.

But the bottom line still is - what do you intend to write these papers for and who do you want to reach out to? If it is researchers, publishing in peer-reviewed journals does make sense as it is what they read, a lot. If it is industry, by contrast, they don't read these papers a whole lot but they do attend conferences and exhibitions.

If you want to reach out to just general audience with your cool ideas, you might as well post on social media instead for arguably bigger impact at a less effort.

Sorry, it all boils down to how you define "be taken seriously". If your ultimate goal is for scientists to act upon your work, you either publish in peer-reviewed journals and attract attention that way, or reach out to academics saying you have a project where collaboration would make sense and you'd provide them with some resources from the industry and they would do some more in-depth research in return.

Finally, don't forget that funding in academia is oftentimes tightly coupled to publications. If you want academics to act on your ideas, you either hire them to work on the industry side or seek grant funding which means... publishing this work.

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    I don't see how the arXix preprint you linked backs up the claim that "barely anyone is readind academic work". The preprint analyzes the decrease of concentration of citations over (a certain period of) time. Sep 26 at 23:23
  • @JochenGlueck it doesn't - it provides another perspective on the study it is intended to rebuke (Evans' "Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship"). In the latter, an (indirect) claim that fewer articles get read is made - "If online researchers can more easily find prevailing opinion, they are more likely to follow it, leading to more citations referencing fewer articles". This is directly linked to concentration - in an extreme case, everyone finds just a single article on the topic and goes with it, other papers don't enter the discourse.
    – Lodinn
    Sep 27 at 0:23
  • This is similar to social media - if there are no reposts, sure thing, some people will read it still, but that number will be on the low side, and notably so. Also, if it is not clear from the previous comment, the claim to be backed up by the link is slightly different from "barely anyone is reading academic work" - rather that "there is an ongoing discussion about whether anyone even reads academic work and whether it is cost-efficient".
    – Lodinn
    Sep 27 at 0:26
  • @Lodinn, arxiv, researchgate are great sources to connect with worldwide audiences than even journals because arxiv has open access while many journals don't have open access
    – MAS
    Sep 27 at 4:12
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Unfortunately, "peer review" has been made the core certificate of quality for research. Not that everyone agrees with it, but this is how the community works.

If you do research that can be reproduced from the preprint (mathematics, theoretical physics etc.), you might get the occasional follower of your work, but unless you have a network of people that know what you do and have interest in it, I doubt that you will make much headway in visibility - but that's normal, even for "peer-reviewed" papers, unless it is a top journal.

If you just want the knowledge to be out there, the preprints might be sufficient. If you want visibility, you probably have to drum it up in social media - but you need to be careful not to come across as overly interested in publicity.

In an experimental field where experiments are not easily reproduced, you will likely be entirely out of luck. Nobody will see themselves being able to rely on experimental results of an unvetted paper.

Put this way, for an external reader, "non peer reviewed" means: nobody but the author may have read this paper. It might be full of mistakes, badly or inconsistently written, and possibly a waste of time. Unless it promises a really interesting introduction, model, technique or result, which would attract their attention, it more looks like a waste of time.

Whatever you do, you need to make sure that your work does not come across as a waste of time for the reader, peer-reviewed or not; not being peer-reviewed increases the a priori expectation for that for the uninformed reader.

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  • I disagree that in experimental fields no one takes pre-prints seriously. As a researcher, I work almost entirely from preprints. By the time something comes out in peer-reviewed format, the field has almost certainly moved on. But this only appilies to things in my field - i.e. things I could have been the reviewer for if they were peer reviewed. I teach several topics where this is not the case, and hear I would not teach from preprints. Sep 26 at 20:43
  • @IanSudbery Yes, if you are affiliated and possibly and established researcher. Which OP probably isn't going to be, or they wouldn't ask this question. Sep 26 at 21:08
  • I'm happy to read any paper I could peer review - I effectively DO peer review the paper. If I'm capable of doing the peer review myself, why would it be any different if the paper was peer reviewed by someone else? Sep 27 at 6:52
  • @IanSudbery So do I, but many people don't. Again, I think it depends on field and topic. I do put anything on my reading list if I find it interesting and I have the time. Sep 27 at 13:15
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Ultimately, I think this comes down to where most of the good papers are. If all the best papers are in the traditional peer-reviewed academic journals, then naturally they are going to maintain credibility and outside sources are going to lack it. However, if substantial numbers of valuable papers are appearing in alternative fora (e.g., on ArXiv) then it is likely that those alternative fora are going to be "taken seriously". In any process like this there is a temporal delay between quality and credibility, but they will tend to connect in the end.

I agree with many of the criticisms of traditional academic publishing, and indeed, there are some you do not even mention. Nevertheless, one advantage these journals do have is that they have a filtering mechanism that is likely to filter out really low-quality contributions. Non-peer-reviewed repositories have some very good papers in them, but they also have a substantial amount of "chaff". Peer review provides some kind of quality assurance to the reader (for all its many flaws and limitations) and this is something that is helpful when looking for papers.

My suspicion is that we may eventually end up with some kind of hybrid system, where researchers post pre-prints on a general repository and then put the onus on journals to come and have a look at what is available and make publication offers on papers they like. Such a system would solve many of the problems relating to difficulties matching papers to journals, long delays in review, and the one-journal-at-a-time inhibitor on the publication process.

To answer your main question, if you publish on a non-peer-reviewed repository, and don't seek to convert these papers into peer-reviewed publications in journals, you are going to be at some disadvantage. Whether the work is "taken seriously" will ultimately come down to whether it is visible to other researchers, and perceived by them to be of high quality. All of the normal advice for advertising your work and trying to get it noticed applies here. Some papers on ArXiv get lots of attention and citations, so it is clearly possible for papers to be taken seriously without peer-reviewed publication in traditional academic journals. Although you may be at a disadvantage in the short term, if you publish high quality papers in such fora, you are contributing to their credibility in the long term.

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You have three problems:

  1. How will people find out that your work exists?
  2. If they see it, why should they trust it enough to bother reading it?
  3. If they read it, why should they trust it enough to rely on it and cite it?

Problems 1 and 2

If you develop a good enough personal reputation, you can just post stuff. Two blogs that come to my mind are Dan Luu[1] and Vitalik Buterin[2]. But this is pretty rare, not reliable. For the rest of us, you want to put your work somewhere your audience already reads, and you want it to go through some filter so your audience believes it's worthwhile.

I have no idea how to solve this, though. When you think about it, peer-reviewed journals are amazing in this way: where else will you get top professionals to thoroughly investigate your idea for free, then publicize it to all the other top professionals? Good luck!

One thing you can do is communicate with some people who already have strong reputations, tell them about your work, and ask them to publicize it e.g. on social media. Another thing you can do is post to arxiv and hope. Some eyes will get on the paper, but...

Problem 3

For someone to rely on your results and build on them takes a lot of trust. Investigating correctness can take a lot of effort -- even more if it's not very well written, which is possible for a solo author with no peer feedback. I don't think this is as big an issue as problems 1 and 2, but it will be a barrier. You might also find that someone replicates your results in a somewhat different way and is able to publish, with a small citation to you, but their paper is the one that ultimately gets most of the credit, because it goes through peer review and people are comfortable relying on it.

[1] https://danluu.com/

[2] https://vitalik.ca/

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Ultimately it comes down to getting the people who would be interested in your work to read, review, and cite it.

So whether you submit to a journal or put it on a prepublish website, how about contacting the researchers in your field about your work. Submitting to a journal will get you some visibility through their readership, but there are probably a lot more out there you could find.

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    Contacting other researchers might work to get a collaborator who wants to coauthor the article on your groundbreaking research and do most of the boring work of writing, formatting and submitting. However your work needs to be good enough for anybody else wanting to do that work.
    – Pere
    Sep 27 at 18:19
  • @Pere Do they contribute intellectually? Otherwise, they do not deserve co-authorship. Sep 28 at 0:09
  • "Deserve" is quite an elastic term. It seems that for the OP the less intellectual part of the job is what is harder. Therefore, he might want to lower the bar of what intellectual contribution a coauthor needs. Furthermore, if the OP doesn't even want to format and submit the article himself, I can't imagine him dealing with reviewers, and that would be a quite intellectual contribution that a coauthor might handle in large part.
    – Pere
    Sep 28 at 10:53
-2

Work for a tech giant with deep pockets.

If you want to do innovative work that will still be taken seriously, then you need to be able to demonstrate that your work is serious. One potential way to do that is to work for a massive tech corporation like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, or Google (often collectively referred to as FAANG). They're all massive companies that do innovative research and development work within their areas of business, that can sometimes be more advanced than the state-of-the-art within academia. Similarly, within the financial tech industry, there would be many companies whose financial market prediction tech is more advanced than similar tech within academia.

Of course, all of that work would be company trade secrets, so talking about specifics in public would likely be verboten (though these companies do occasionally publish technical "blue papers" about their research), but academics would respect you and take you seriously. If the guy in charge of Google's quantum computer division starts talking about quantum computers, academics won't dismiss him as a crank.

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    Of course, good luck getting a position as a head of Google's quantum computer research division without a strong academic record (== published, peer reviewed, cited research).
    – penelope
    Sep 27 at 14:51
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    It took my father more than two decades post-PhD to become the chief scientist at the very large corporation he worked for - by then he was in his 50's - and even then the results he was allowed to publish went through both peer review and a corporate legal filter for non-disclosure. As @penelope points out only a minuscule number of people attain such position. If the goal is to publish results which will be widely accepted faster than you can do through peer review, this isn't a workable solution for most people.
    – pjs
    Sep 27 at 17:00
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    @JEs9X I'm surprise you say that, because this really doesn't seem to answer the question you asked. This isn't an alternative way to get your research recognized by the research community, it's a suggestion to do a completely different type of research in the first place.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 27 at 18:00
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    @pjs "only a minuscule number of people attain such position." Of course, but the numbers I've heard are that only one in ten PhD graduates manage to get a job in academia, so not many people manage to follow the "traditional" path either.
    – nick012000
    Sep 27 at 22:51
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    @nick012000 "Companies generally don't care about peer reviewed research" I had the pleasure of meeting people in my academic career that were head-hunted by Google and Facebook specifically to head their research divisions. All of them were highly-published, highly-cited profs with an excellent peer-reviewed research first, which was the reason FAANGs approached them. As "just" a person with high technical skills and maybe an OK research record, you may apply yourself or even get invited, but only to an engineer role, not research (if very lucky, an eng in a research team, but still an eng)
    – penelope
    Sep 28 at 9:15

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