Suppose a work (a book with abstract math research) is presented as LaTeX source under a copyleft license available at a public Git hosting service.

Will scientists be reluctant to cite such a work, because it was not published "officially"?

Having asked this question, I mention that in my opinion that publishing under copyleft in a Git repository is a better means to hunt errors than traditional peer review, because everybody can track and patch errors in the book. But will this real security convert to enough sense of security of academic community?

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    It's might be viable to do that as long as you're a known entity and can publicize it through connections. But if you aren't already well known in the research community, then it will probably just go unnoticed and/or ignored.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:07
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    GitHub and it's likes would be more appropriate for Code Share. For your case why don't you take a look at Creative Commons and their work it may answer your concern. creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/12824
    – Y123
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:35
  • Academicians do not have time to review all papers - so even if in principle they can make corrections, it's unlikely that you will get too man Pull Requests. For sake of "making things public" an open license is great. But if you just put it there it's unlikely that they will even notice it. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:38
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    GitHub is viable for mathematical publications. The stacks project github.com/stacks/stacks-project is hosted there and is well regarded in academia even though it is far from being complete. Of couse, Roger Fan is right in claiming that it is going to go unnoticed and/or ignored if its author is not well-connected -- which is exactly what happens with actual professionally published books these days. Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 0:32

3 Answers 3


There are two separate questions tangled together here. The first is whether scientists will cite something that has not gone through a traditional peer review process, and the second is whether a copyleft / open source repository project is a good way to manage such a non-traditional publication.

To the first, the answer is most certainly yes. Many non-peer-reviewed publications are not just cited, but highly cited, particularly technical reports and standards. These do not undergo peer review, but if they are useful to people, they will cite them---sometimes thousands of times.

For the second, well, consider the fate of most free and open projects, whether on GitHub or elsewhere. Almost every project of this type dies quietly in the dark, because nobody notices or cares about it. Some, of course, succeed, and a few have massive impact. The question is: why should anybody care about your project? If they do, then copylefting in a git repository is no better or worse a way to manage the document than any other way that communities manage non-peer-reviewed documents (though make sure you do it with a CC license, not a code license). If they don't then the technological or ideological elegance of your approach will make no difference.

The bottom line is: you are focusing on the technology, rather than the community. You need to understand how your work will interact with your community, and then the technology is a secondary issue that will follow from that interaction.


In the old days, cranks would pay vanity presses to have their work published, then donate the books to university libraries, hoping they would end up on a few shelves. Nowadays, they just put their work on line. Simple.

One suspects that (in most cases) work is placed in non-traditional places because it is not good enough to be published in the traditional places. I guess there are a few non-cranks who do this, but they are vastly outnumbered by the cranks.


Scientists typically only cite works that have been evaluated by experts, although reviews are not an error-free guarantee of truthiness. A good way to catch errors is to temporarily post a preliminary version, and then revise for reviewed-publication in light of comments that you get. Add the possibility that anyone could modify the work -- effectively making the book a Wiki-type publication -- then there would be even less trust in the work, if any random drive-by web-surfer is given permission to modify the book.

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    You say "any random drive-by web-surfer is given permission to modify the book". It is not quite true. Using Git version control system, everybody is able to make a copy of my book and modify his copy, but he wouldn't be able to modify my "main" version without my agreement to accept his changes.
    – porton
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:28

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