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I've always been interested in communicating research to the public. I also strongly believe that research publications should be in the public domain, especially if the work was funded with public money. I found the responses to this question to be pretty interesting, and they got me thinking about scientific blogging as a solution.

So my question is -- can I put up my scientific findings on my blog or webspace that is not written exactly like my published article but contains essentially the same data and results?

Edit: I am not suggesting blogging as an alternative to publishing, but as an additional mode by which I can communicate my research and not be handcuffed by any publishing magnate.

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    Many journals allow you to post preprints of your articles on your website, both before and after publication. This seems like the easiest solution. However, you should keep in mind that many journals consider the referee's contributions to be their intellectual property, in which case you should not distribute a version of the paper containing anything that arose from the referee's comments (the easiest way to comply with this is to only post the version that you submitted to the journal in the first place.) – Trevor Wilson Dec 21 '14 at 19:16
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    @Trevor: "However, you should keep in mind that many journals consider the referee's contributions to be their intellectual property" I find this to be quite dubious: do you know any journals which explicitly say this? If the referee's comments are the intellectual property of anyone, it must be the referee, not the journal. But referees give comments without knowing whether a paper will be published or not (and, in some cases, recommending against it). – Pete L. Clark Dec 21 '14 at 20:02
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    @Trevor: I think you're confusing changes made by editors employed at the journal (and approved by the authors) with changes made by the authors, possibly influenced by reviewer or editorial comment. – Ben Voigt Dec 21 '14 at 20:05
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    The idea that if a referee points out an error in your work then you are ethically prevented from correcting that error in a freely available copy of your work seems distressing. Also, when I referee, I take the perspective that everything I write is given to the authors of the papers to do with as they please. If I actually wanted to retain some intellectual property, then I would communicate the information through some other means. And the idea that the journal has the property of what I wrote does not make me happy. – Pete L. Clark Dec 21 '14 at 20:06
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    Please refer to this list to understand better what you can and cannot do with you article. Search for your own publisher and see the policies in place for posting post-prints or self-archiving. – Aubrey Dec 21 '14 at 23:46
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I think the answer is yes, but you should aim higher: the line you're drawing in the sand is uncomfortably close to you and that's causing more work for you than is necessary.

Namely, trying to put the essential content of your papers on your own website for the purpose of freely disseminating your work seems wrongheaded: instead, you should be putting your own papers on your webpage and/or freely available preprint servers like the arxiv. In order to do so fully legally (which is not necessarily the same as ethically: it is possible to feel that the law is unethical, in which case the ethical thing to do could be to break the law, but be willing to live with the consequences of that) you need to arrange this as a condition of the publication. This is absolutely feasible with all of the major scientific publishing companies. How common the deal is seems to depend on the individual journal and on the standards of the field. In my field (mathematics), I do not know of a reputable journal which would not allow its authors to post on the arxiv. (Once I dealt with a journal which initially asked me to remove the copy of the paper from my homepage. After some back and forth, the editor in chief told me that it was absolutely okay for me to do that and he was surprised that the editorial assistant had said otherwise. In retrospect, this was a clear warning that I was dealing with a shady journal.)

I gather that in some scientific fields, there are "popular" journals which do not allow authors to put papers on the arxiv (or, alas, there may not be an arxiv or clear equivalent) or -- gasp! -- on their own homepage. I find this strange, because in my understanding in most scientific fields the majority of journals are owned by Elsevier, Springer, Science Direct... -- i.e., by enormous multinational, multibillion dollar publishing magnates which are not renowned for their generosity or enthusiasm for open access. But when you publish a paper in (e.g.) mathematics in one of these journals, the copyright notice that you sign allows you to post the paper on the arxiv and your own webpage. I find it hard to believe that the copyright notices for different journals by the same publisher would be so different on this point. So the battle has already been won in these hardest places. If there are trade journals specific to your field which are less generous to authors than the evil empires I've mentioned above: well, if you care about this sort of thing, don't publish there.

In terms of putting copies of published papers on the arxiv, in light of the comments above let me share my understanding. What you publish should not include any journal-specific formatting: it should not look like a Journal X publication. As a general practice, most authors upload to the arxiv before submission, and then only upload a new copy if some kind of significant, content-related change was made. In particular, if an error was pointed out, then it would be good to correct that. If the journal did copyediting for you -- which is not the same as directing you to do copyediting after acceptance -- then maybe it is best all around not to incorporate those changes in the freely available version: on the one hand, aside from formatting, this is the only place in which the journal itself is contributing to the paper; on the other hand, going back and manually incorporating the copyediting for an entire paper could take some time and effort.

To respond to what was said in the comments: in my opinion, whether your revisions were motivated by a referee report should not have any bearing on whether you want to change the freely available version. If you are making changes in response to a referee report, then including that information in a "comments" section on the paper would be a classy move. But as a frequent author and referee, I feel strongly that the changes you made in response to the referee report are not proprietary to the journal in any way (or in any other way from the rest of the content of the paper).

Added: The task of checking out policies of publishers and journals with regard to preprints is not something that an individual researcher needs to address from scratch: there are several online repositories of information about this. Here is one.

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    Indeed... The economic model that we trade intellectual property to multi-national corporations for the professional status they may grant, while they also enjoy the free labor of our colleagues, ... is bizarre. Well, very nice at one end, but that time is past: appraisal of the scholarly merits of work no longer need be mediated by corporations, etc. – paul garrett Dec 21 '14 at 23:54
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    It is worth noting that this varies highly from field to field. Biology and chemistry have notable rapacious publication policies, in which even putting something on arXiv can count as prior publication and prevents you from publishing. – jakebeal Dec 22 '14 at 0:08
  • @jakebeal: One should certainly check things out first. My understanding is that some journals in biology and chemistry have this benighted attitude. If you don't care about the issue, then why not go along with them. However the OP is clearly does care about this, so he should publish in journals which are more reasonable about it. – Pete L. Clark Dec 22 '14 at 0:26
  • Conversely, by publishing in a "rapacious journal" it seems that you risk losing the moral high ground. I find it unlikely that any journal will start a crusade against authors describing their own work on the web (!!), but ethically: well, it depends on how demonic the contract is, doesn't it? Maybe you did sign away your rights to do this. – Pete L. Clark Dec 22 '14 at 0:36
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    @PeteL.Clark: Thanks for your reply. I would definitely put up my publications on my webpage or arxiv. However, I was also viewing a research blog as being a place where I could discuss my research (possibly in a more informal way). In hindsight it does seem that I was choosing a far more laborious alternative (but possibly novel and interesting?) Anyway, your comments have been very helpful. Thank you! – Arjun Narayanan Dec 22 '14 at 1:43
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 can I put up my scientific findings on my blog or webspace that is not written exactly like my published article but contains essentially the same data and results?

This is completely OK with the copyright: as you describe it, the blog post would be a new work. It is even clearer if you want to reword it so that it is readable for a larger audience. Copyright is about a particular piece of work, it does not prevent anyone from using the idea expressed in the work.

Problems could arise if the blog is copy & paste from the paper (figures?, tables?). However, I'd say that blog format and paper usually more or less require different renderings of figures and tables, and producing a new figure/table containing the same data is OK as far as I know.

I do copy and paste the abstract assuming that the publisher won't object to their paper being more prominently visible. I always put a link to the official version (as well as to the manuscript, e.g. on arXiv or on my personal web page, as the copyright transfer allows)
Note that I chose not to put in the additional work of writing yet another new text, and instead basically link to the paper.


Detail thoughts:

  • The copyright of the publisher does relate to the facts (data points in the figure/table).

  • Thus, if the paper has a LaTeX-looking LaTeX table you put together and the blog has a HTML-looking HTML table you put together, there shouldn't be trouble.

  • I'm not sure about, say, microscope images. But then you may have chosen one of several photos for the paper, and there is maybe a second-best photo for the blog.

  • For graphics, again, the plotted data is not owned by the publisher. I often prepare at least two versions of my plots: for presentations I choose a different layout (larger text, sans serif font) than for the paper (serif font, often smaller text compared to the actual plot canvas). I'd anyways think that the presentation version is more suited for the blog.

  • In the end, you'll have to read the copyright transfer agreement as this lists which rights you retain.

  • Or maybe even to tell them before transfer of the copyright that you grant them the non-exclusive right to reproduce the schematic diagram in figure 7b (if you know in advance you'll want to reuse it).

  • My experience in asking for permission to include tables and figures into another paper (with citation of the original) is that I got the permission without hassle.

  • I'd argue that the blog post you describe is at least as different from the article as, say, a presentation you give. But IANAL

  • Thanks for your answer. I figured that reproduction of figures and tables would be the sticky part. And going by your answer (and the other answers so far) it does seem like pre-prints are the most viable option. However, I would still be greatly interested in blogging about my research because it gives me a place to be more descriptive and less "jargoney" (this is purely my opinion and I don't imply it in a general sense). – Arjun Narayanan Dec 22 '14 at 18:07
  • @ArjunNarayanan: pre-print is certainly the easiest way. I added some thoughts about tables and figures. – cbeleites Dec 22 '14 at 18:23
  • I find it very surprising that (a) superficial changes seem to be the most important distinguishing factor and (b) I cannot freely and without hassle talk about my own research. sigh a new paradigm is required. Thanks for the added details though, especially if it keeps me out of legal troubles with publishing companies. – Arjun Narayanan Dec 22 '14 at 21:49
  • The superficial details nevertheless must be large enough. The examples I give are superficial, because what constitutes the protected rights of the journal is also only "superficial": it is not the content, but the form they present the content in. So if you find another form that should be sufficient. The main point is: copyright is not about the idea, but about the actual form the text/figure/table takes. This ensures that everybody can talk about your research. Just not by copy & paste from the publisher's version of the paper: you basically sold them this right. – cbeleites Dec 23 '14 at 13:20
  • @cebeleites: In retrospect it's perhaps comforting that I sold them just the formatting and nothing else! – Arjun Narayanan Dec 23 '14 at 20:11
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I'm not an expert on the copyright part of your question, but previous responses are more detailed.

The short answer to the ethical part though is: yes, of course, and thank you for doing that. Scientific research is too important to just let the scientists understand that. The aim of open access is to spread scientific results and notions to the largest audience as possible. It is also good for you as a scholar (you gain readers and widen your audience, you're more likely to receive citations).

Remember the goals of the Berlin Declaration:

Our mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society. New possibilities of knowledge dissemination not only through the classical form but also and increasingly through the open access paradigm via the Internet have to be supported. We define open access as a comprehensive source of human knowledge and cultural heritage that has been approved by the scientific community.

I don't see how your blogging and explaining your scientific results does not comply to those words. Making science accessible for everyone is one of the deep, perennial goals of academia: more, it is crucial for democracy.
So, thanks!

  • Thanks for the answer and encouragement. As a (relatively young) grad student, I often find that the literature I read would be more easily understood if they came out with some form of "paraphrasing" or "commentary" by the authors that would enable easier understanding. I'm not implying this in a general sense, but I do believe that several researchers are not quite adept at communicating clearly and lucidly. – Arjun Narayanan Dec 23 '14 at 20:14

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