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Scientific Journal Publications: On the Role of Electronic Preprint Exchange in the Distribution of Scientific Literature


Abstract and Figures

The scientific community has begun using new information and communication technologies to increase the efficiency with which publications are disseminated. The trend is most marked in some areas of physics, where research papers are first circulated in the form of electronic unrefereed preprints through a service known as arXiv. In the first half of this paper, I explain how arXiv works, and describe the conceptual backstage and its growing influence. I will look at the motives behind the developing technologies and focus on the views of promoters and makers of the system. In the second half of the paper, I look at the eventual fate of papers initially circulated with arXiv. While it is argued that preprints are sufficient for the everyday scientific practice, nearly every paper in some specialities finds its way into formally peer-reviewed journals and proceedings. I argue that the continuation of traditional publication practices, in spite of their costs and inefficiencies when compared with arXiv, suggests that formally certified publication still has important roles. Certified publication verifies the relevance of scientific work and establishes professional credentials in the outer rings of the community, whose members are not sufficiently embedded in esoteric networks to make appropriate judgements on the basis of reading papers in isolation, or even through consultation. © SSS and SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks CA, New Delhi).
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Scientific Journal Publications:
On the Role of Electronic Preprint Exchange in the Distribution of Scientific Literature1
Kristrún Gunnarsdóttir
Gunnarsdór, K (2005). On the Role of Electronic Preprint Exchange in the
Distribu$on of Scien$&c Literature. Social Studies of Science 35(4):549-579.
ABSTRACT: The scientific community has begun using new information and communication
technologies to increase the efficiency with which publications are disseminated. The trend is most
marked in some areas of physics, where research papers are first circulated in the form of electronic
unrefereed preprints through a service known as arXiv. In the first half of this paper, I explain how
arXiv works, and describe the conceptual backstage and its growing influence. I will look at the
motives behind the developing technologies and focus on the views of promoters and makers of the
system. In the second half of the paper, I look at the eventual fate of papers initially circulated with
arXiv. While it is argued that preprints are sufficient for the everyday scientific practice, nearly
every paper in some specialities finds its way into formally peer-reviewed journals and proceedings.
I argue that the continuation of traditional publication practices, in spite of their costs and
inefficiencies when compared with arXiv, suggests that formally certified publication still has
important roles. Certified publication verifies the relevance of scientific work and establishes
professional credentials in the outer rings of the community, whose members are not sufficiently
embedded in esoteric networks to make appropriate judgements on the basis of reading papers in
isolation, or even through consultation.
Keywords academic reward, digital library, electronic publishing, experts, information technology,
journal publication, peer review, subject classification
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New communication and information technologies are changing the academic workplace,
yet the impact is not well known. Networked computer systems for instant electronic exchange
were introduced to the community in 1969, with the first email application of the Arpanet.2
Nowadays, communication and database management technologies offer academic researchers
instant global access to both refereed and unrefereed repositories of research results, some free of
charge, with extended citation services, data harvesting and search functions. Nevertheless, older
communication channels continue to have currency. These include: (1) the telephone, which now
comes with call waiting, conference call options and call transfers; (2) conferences, workshops and
seminars, which sometimes offer exotic foods, wines and opportunities to chat with colleagues; (3)
book publications, often intended for a wider audience; and (4) conventional subscription journals,
with their hierarchy and complex systems of refereeing.
Information technologies are widely considered to offer much faster, cheaper and more
efficient solutions for publication and distribution. Why then, do all the old, slow and expensive
channels continue to exist alongside the fast, efficient and cheap channels? To give a partial answer
to this question, I will look at a case study of arXiv, an unrefereed preprint dissemination system
originating in the high-energy physics (HEP) community.3 Preprint distribution among physicists
has been going on for the past 40 years, long before the advent of networked computing, but more
recently the advancing technologies used to communicate research results have brought to the fore
some puzzling aspects of how publication is regulated.
The present study examines the arXiv system, focusing on how that technological system
serves the communicative needs of a mainstream science. This paper covers the history of the
system and examines arguments, provided by its advocates, that explain the nature of its success,
but also challenges the most puzzling aspects of its role in scientific publishing. My treatment of
this system is influenced by several lines of work in science and technology studies (STS).
Ethnographic studies of HEP offer insight on cultural and communicative aspects of the field
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(Traweek, 1988; Knorr-Cetina, 1999). Studies of the history of the scientific paper also provide
helpful information on how novel modes of publication influence scientific communication and
community. In addition, studies of technological systems can shed light on the relationships
between technological designs and the activities and identities of users.4 Finally, borrowing from
Collins’ (1985; 1999) studies of scientific controversy, I will apply the notion of a ‘core-group’ to
users of the arXiv system, focusing on its outer social rings, and I will ask what this context
signifies with respect to publication trends, media formats, and policing, when successful
translation and mediation of relevant scientific contributions is at stake.5
The Problem of Epistemological and Logistical Controls
One of the supposed disadvantages of an open online preprint exchange of academic
publications, as compared with formally refereed journals, is that any person with institutional
affiliations can upload their work into the system. The risk is that the repository will be flooded
with erroneous results or irrelevant content. There are two parts to this objection. The
epistemological objection is that the archives will become hosts for poor science and readers will be
scientifically misinformed. The logistical objection is that a flood of irrelevant papers will hinder
scientists in their search for information. I will argue that in the case of esoteric scientific practice,
the epistemological objection is of no importance, because core-group readers are self-policing with
regard to the quality of scientific claims. And, when research topics cross the boundaries of core-
group practice, core-group members have ready access to other communication channels for
consulting with colleagues in other specialities. I will argue that the logistical problem is essentially
a problem of membership definition, of submitter authentication and subject classification, rather
than of detailed refereeing, and this requires entirely different kinds of solutions. In the case of
arXiv, authentication is automated, but human input currently solves the problem of inspection and
subject classification. This is to say that authors classify their own papers as part of the uploading
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process, and system administrators and moderators correct the classification when necessary, before
opening them for online dissemination.
The fact that an archive of unrefereed preprints can operate without presenting an
epistemological problem only sharpens the question of why scientists still publish nearly all of their
research through the refereed channels. Advocates of arXiv are proud to claim that most of the
papers disseminated through the system are eventually published in conventional scientific journals
and reputable conference proceedings. They cite this fact as an indication of the quality of the
preprint service. Formal publication is still a necessary gatekeeper to assure outsiders that a piece of
work has significance when they need to make decisions about appointments, promotions and
funding (Bohlin, 2004). Conventional journal publications have a symbolic role for these outsiders,
whereas the preprint dissemination bears the burden of information exchange in the scientific
Achieving Automation: Aiming for Autonomy
ArXiv began operation at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) in 1991. Initially, it
was a simple email reflector for exchanging papers among theorists in HEP. It grew quickly to
implement the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and, in 1993, the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
to enable the migration of the rapidly growing system to the newly invented World Wide Web. Its
use spread in the larger HEP research community, and other core-groups who were comfortable
with the infrastructure that the system provides, gradually became involved. Papers posted on arXiv
have always been accessible for free to all people with Internet access, and no charge is required
from contributing scientists who take responsibility for uploading their papers, using the automated
author self-archival module.6 The founder of arXiv explains the rapid acceptance of this model in
his research community by saying that it was `facilitated by a pre-existing “preprint culture”, in
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which the irrelevance of refereed journals to ongoing research has long been recognised' (Ginsparg,
The library of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) began actively collecting
preprints of physics papers and maintaining bibliographic records as early as 1962.8 In 1968 the
bibliographic card catalogue of these preprints was used as test subject for the computer database
system at Stanford University, and the development of the Stanford Physics (later Public)
Information REtrieval System (SPIRES) began. In 1969 SPIRES, in collaboration with the
American Physical Society, started a weekly publication of preprint titles (SPIRES-HEP), known as
Preprints in Particles and Fields (PPF) and its sister ‘Anti-Preprints’ recorded the preprint titles that
had been formally published (PPA).9 It was also in 1962 that the Deutsches Elektronen-SYnchrotron
(DESY) in Hamburg began publishing a list of all the published an unpublished HEP research
literature they received, and they hired physicists to assign long lists of keywords. These two
institutes began collaborating, and by 1974 high energy physicists and their collaborators on both
sides of the Atlantic were subscribing to regular listings of new preprints in the HEP community,
generated from a single database with keywords and citation overviews. They circulated copies of
unrefereed research papers using ordinary mail when responding to requests from other scientists.
These same papers would typically take anywhere from 6 months to more than 1 year to be
published in the relevant scientific journal, and scientists preferred not to wait so long. Apparently,
scientific practice required much faster exchange than conventional publications could offer, and
the demand for preprints was well recognised in the community. In 1985 online access to the
bibliographic database was made possible through email and other bit-net protocols, and its use
spread quickly to more than forty countries. Subscriptions became electronic, but it still was
impossible to get electronic access to the actual preprints or published papers. They were still sent
by ordinary mail service upon request from subscriber.
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At the end of the 1980s,TeX, a scientific typesetting software program, had become
available to members of the community free of charge.10 Suddenly it was straightforward to produce
a preprint of equal presentational quality to a published paper. When arXiv was founded in 1991, it
introduced a facility for authors to upload the TeX source of their papers and to place them on the
network, thus making the files instantly available for downloading. However, users of the system
still had to compile the papers and apply postscript interpreters on their local machines in order to
read them. The construction of this new facility was accomplished by implementing a simple
program design around an already existing bit-net technology. Uploaded paper source packages
automatically went into a single repository and instant access was available by using basic terminal
commands. The design of this system included an implicit assumption about would-be patrons: that
they were trained in computer programming and system/software configurations, and thus would be
able to understand the mechanisms behind the system and the software they were using. 11
ArXiv as a pure dissemination system is one key concept introduced by its advocates
(Ginsparg, 2003). The anticipated outcome was that control over the dissemination of the literature
would be placed solely in the hands of the practising scientists. Technical developments have helped
to give the impression that such an autonomy is possible. Current features include: (1) the TeX auto-
compiler that compiles the TeX paper source on upload and tests the source code for integrity.
Consequently, postscript documents are made available ‘on the fly’, and the original TeX source
also is available for users who wish to do their own compiling. The auto-compiler project has been
going on since 1995, and its development been for the most part in the hands of physicists and
arXiv programmers at Los Alamos; (2) dynamic conversion of postscript outputs to a Portable
Document Format (PDF) is available on demand; (3) automated citation analysis and automated
uploads of journal references are carried out in collaboration with the library at SLAC (SPIRES-
HEP) and with CiteBase, which provides Open Archives services of autonomous citation navigation
and analysis;12 (4) compliance to the Open Archive Initiative (OAI) protocol for metadata harvesting
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has been implemented since 2001. This protocol provides an application-independent
interoperability framework, which is to say that independent web-based repositories scattered all
over in different formats only need to make sure that their software and metadata is compliant with
the protocol; robot harvesters on the Web, ploughing for data sources using OAI, will extract the
data and index it for search engines.13
ArXiv has become a large technological system that has strong associations with basic
research on networked computing and with broader developments in practices of document
rendering and format conversion - all of which support its growth and add to its strength.14
Physicists trained in HEP and related areas, and mathematicians, are mainly responsible for the
design and development of the arXiv system. Those specialities provide much of the technological
frame - the whole range of practices, ideas, and values that evolve around the technology.15
Monthly submission rates for arXiv in the first 13.2 years (total N at 23 September 2004: 290,321). From arXiv online
submission statistics at <>. Courtesy of Cornell University Library.
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Participation has grown steadily over time in specialities that find the arXiv infrastructure
adequate for their purposes, despite the lack of conventional peer review. Recently, scientists in
quantitative biology adopted the system.16 As can be seen in Figure 1, arXiv has been successful as
measured by a growing submission rate.
Advocates of the system claim that the emerging new technologies have increased the
efficiency in their everyday practice and they have argued strongly that adoption of the system has
led to economic gains. They point to figures that compare the costs and revenue associated with
different publishing systems. They argue that peer review systems, although the formal reviewing of
papers is done with voluntary work, entails unavoidable costs covering editorial expenses,
secretarial work, administration, overhead, and so forth.17 They contrast the enormous revenues
generated by trade publishers and the costs associated with the publishing activities of science
societies and university presses, with the cost of arXiv operations of only a few dollars per paper.
ArXiv is promoted as a feasible alternative to conventional practices for other reasons as
well. Advocates of the electronic preprint exchange have repeatedly argued that the conventional
peer review system does not verify research results. They claim, for example, that referees in the
anonymous refereeing model have been known to accept papers based on their recognition of
authors rather than their evaluation of the content of the papers.18 They point out that the legitimacy
of a paper’s topic is the most important condition for it to be accepted for publication.
Outsiders to the system are sometimes surprised to learn that peer-reviewed
journals do not certify correctness of research results. Their somewhat weaker
evaluation is that an paper is a) not obviously wrong or incomplete, and b) is
potentially of interest to readers in the field. The peer review process is also not
designed to detect fraud, or plagiarism, nor a number of associated problems
-those are all left to posterity to correct. (Ginsparg, 2003)19
Ginsparg and other advocates of arXiv argue further that conventional peer review processes
do little more than certifying publications by a scientific elite, and add little value to the routine
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validation of research results that already takes place in the course of the daily practice. They add
that peer review serves the sole purpose of job and grant allocation, and that such certification
through peer review can be greatly simplified while other processes are automated.20 They see the
problem as technical - a matter of economy and efficiency, rather than an epistemological problem
in scientific practice.
The ambition embodied in the arXiv system is to automate the dissemination process in a
way that allows members of the core-groups to have little fear that ‘non-certified’ intruders will get
into the system. The general rule is that legitimate members speak the same language and write ‘on-
Comparison of conventional publishing procedures with the preprint exchange. Advocates of the preprint exchange argue
that little value is added with the formal peer review process. (This figure is originally drafted collectively at a research
group meeting at Cardiff University)
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topic’ papers. Everyone else is excluded.21 It has also been argued that legitimate researchers are
published in the elite journals as a matter of course, and that journals also include research reports
that are later refuted. The sorting mechanisms are already in place in post-graduate and post-
doctoral training. Overall, scientists either become members of the core groups or they do not, and
if they do get into such groups they produce mainstream science.22 This means that the relevant
threshold for entry can be implemented by a preprint server that does no more than make an ‘on-
topic’ or ‘off-topic’ decision about paper content; in effect, arXiv’s proponents argue, the journals
operate according to the same basic standard.
History Seen in a Broader Perspective: ArXiv, the Unique Case
Since the early 1990s there have been larger and deeper crises in all areas of scholarly
research about how to disseminate the conventional academic journal literature. ArXiv is seen as a
pioneering response to this crisis. It is the first concrete example of scientists taking the
dissemination process and the ownership of papers into their own hands, and scholars in other
disciplines have wondered how they also can take advantage of such a system. I argue that it is
important to recognize that arXiv is a unique case that does not easily compare with other
initiatives. To clarify this point I will look briefly at two key arguments in the broader debate.
The first regards subscription charges, which have been a source of increasing concern for
academic libraries and individual researchers. The question is: ‘Who owns the scientific journal
literature?’23 Scientists and scholars usually receive no direct compensation for publishing journal
papers or for reviewing and evaluating submissions. However, they and their institutions are
welcome to pay heavy tolls for access to these same publications. This criticism expresses an
increased resistance to profit-making trade publishers of scholarly literature, who operate in a
particularly non-elastic market.24
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Criticism is also aimed at not-for-profit societies and university presses that have high
production costs. This criticism is largely based on the assumption that the digital and networked
age should have made journal publication much cheaper, and printing them even entirely
unnecessary. By the mid-1990s it had become impressively cheap for any individual to typeset a
document with a simple hypertext mark-up language (html) editor, which soon became an export
format option embedded in some word processors. It also had become possible for almost anyone to
post documents online, from where they could be viewed and downloaded by anyone else with
access to the relevant online network. It follows that digital processing and digital publishing should
make formal and certified publication much less expensive. Demonstration of the arXiv model’s
very low production costs clearly supports this arguments, but predictions in the early 1990s that all
academic journal publications would become very cheap, or even free of cost, and that journals
would go immediately online as soon as journal administrators learned to implement and manage
new technologies, did not come to pass. Conventional journal publications have gradually come
online, but most of them have access constraints and the price paid for access is often high.25
Nevertheless, pressures increase for publishers to allow free online access:
Just as there is no longer any need for research or researchers to be constrained
by the access-blocking restrictions of paper distribution, there is no longer any
need to be constrained by the impact-blocking financial fire-walls of
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P) tolls for this give-away
literature. (Harnad, 1998, 2001)
It has been a source of pride for the arXiv operation that access to papers is free of charge
and globally available. Even the final versions of papers that are formally published in journals are
often posted with arXiv under a ‘free-for-fair-use-by-all’ principle. In this respect, the arXiv
operation set an example that supported a much broader movement. It remains in firm opposition to
profit-making trade publishing, and the new trend of posting for free has also put pressure on
scientific societies and university presses, motivating them rethink their publishing practices.
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The second argument centres on the role of peer review to uphold what is traditionally seen
as the necessary certification and quality control. Apparently, no alternative publishing scheme of
academic literature has renounced altogether the role of publication with elite journals for the
formal certification process. However, arXiv differs sharply from other publication systems by
maintaining an unrefereed preprints service, a large-scale self-moderating and self-policing scheme
that openly disapproves of the certification process as inefficient and costly.26
Puzzling Aspects of Control, Configuration and Influence: ArXiv’s Success
Publication is a significant product and an integral component of scientific research, whether
distributed in printed or electronic form, refereed or unrefereed. Scientific communities use
distinctive forms of internal communication, but little is known about how the patterns of
communication differ from one field to another or how they are embedded in larger mechanisms of
knowledge production. STS studies have drawn attention to cultural issues such as solidarity and
discord, and to controversial situations such as priority disputes, uncertainties about replication,
intellectual property disputes, and managing plagiarism, fraud and hoaxes.27
Studies of the culture of HEP shed light on the relevance of arXiv operations for that field.
They depict a rather homogeneous research community, although consisting of many research units,
which is an example of a ‘communitarian’ culture with ‘object-centred’ research and
experimentation (Knorr-Cetina, 1999). There are only a few HEP laboratories worldwide, the
experiments are enormous in size, and many published papers already are reviewed by large
numbers of peers even before becoming preprints in arXiv. These papers can have hundreds of
researchers listed as contributors.28 Because authors are listed in alphabetical order they do not
overtly indicate who is a leader, who is an inspiration, and so on.29 Even when high-energy
physicists work in very small groups, there appears to be little stress over priority and intellectual
property. Sharing research results is a common practice, and the ground rules for data use are pretty
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clear. Extensive collaboration is vital and the community cannot help but depend on moral integrity
and solidarity among its members.
This depiction of HEP is not that of a scientific field faced with controversy or a priority
race. It is a description of a normal science that includes all of its members in large-scale
collaborations that can include many different core-groups. This does not mean that there is no
competition and no struggle required for gaining entry into the field and establishing a reputation. It
only supports the view that, ”[a] core-group is much more likely to be solidaristic than a core-set”
(Collins, 1999: 164).
ArXiv assumes no direct role in formal refereeing, but it stores papers that clearly undergo
peer evaluation, whether or not they are later certified for formal publication. The operation
depends on an overall solidarity among practising physicists and mathematicians. It offers no
formal quality control mechanism to sanction plagiarism, fraud or marginal content. The most that
arXiv enables is to revoke submitter status from ‘norm-breaking’ individuals and to establish
priority by automatically stamping date and time on submissions when they are uploaded.
Occasionally, ‘off-topic’ papers slip through, but this also happens with conventional publishing.
Members of the participating groups are nevertheless confident that they can evaluate the posted
papers. If they are uncertain about the validity of particular research findings, they can consult with
other colleagues.30 In other words, arXiv’s very existence seems to demonstrate the irrelevance for
practising physicists of the old slow process of conventionally certified publication.
But there is more to consider. One unique aspect of technological inventions is how they
ignore disciplinary boundaries. Physicists become computer system engineers and are confident that
their new ideas and choices are on the right track. Their tasks are problem oriented rather than
discipline oriented, and may also involve budgetary and managerial considerations, as well as
considerations of designing and developing the invention. In a historical account of invention, the
connections should be followed wherever they lead.31 Science and technology are both said to be
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socially constructed, but the boundaries between them are unclear, as is their relationship with
economics. Technology is needed to do science and scientists produce new technologies.32 Older
technology also shapes new technology in the sense that already existing solutions serve as
resources for new innovations and could actually be said to pre-configure some aspects of them.33
This is particularly true of innovative uses of the Internet infrastructure, where an already existing
grid facilitates linkages between an enormous number of new host types. ArXiv is built on a set of
social and technological settlements, designed over decades by high energy physicists and their
resource service units. They are the relevant social group included in the many design phases, but at
the same time the boundaries of this group have become unclear.
Although with hindsight it is easier to see why some solutions succeed and become popular
while others do not, none of the players in the current picture know the future. There is plenty of
dust in the air that has not yet settled. Competing standards for hardware configurations, for
document types and document handling, for security and access restrictions, and so forth, have
come and gone, although some continue to prevail.34 The arXiv system is also a service to scientists
to self-archive, and when examined as a meaningful artefact designed with this particular usability
in mind, it shows how that arrangement competes with other forms (artefacts) of online publications
(Bohlin 2004). These are scholarly communication regimes whose symbolic social and cultural
interpretation and meaning have not yet been stabilised. The cooperation between users and the
system also calls for a ‘configuration’ or ‘scripting’ of both.35 Technical proficiency is one important
aspect of the history of arXiv’s design and use. The technological frame incorporates basic research
into information systems engineering, design, and management. Members of the user groups are
expected to have an understanding of the underlying mechanisms, but not all potential users can be
expected to put in the time and the effort to understand the underlying mechanisms, and so ‘user
friendly’ simplifications are regularly suggested.36 On the one hand, arXiv appears to be successful
with the particular expert groups who directly apply its technological frame. Representatives of
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these academic disciplines contribute to the technical development of the system, because they can
comfortably cross boundaries between their academic disciplines and the system’s engineering.37
On the other hand, the system’s success thus far also indicates that behind the design is a relatively
independent research group with a narrow disciplinary focus and control over enough technological
and social resources to build a highly significant storehouse of scientific works. This suggests that a
somewhat isolated group of designers and managers with vested interests has emerged.38
While the dust continues to settle, I will argue that the most significant aspect of the arXiv
operation is the continued posting of unrefereed preprints, thus creating ‘facts on the ground’
supporting the claim that conventionally certified publications are irrelevant to daily scientific
practice. One can then ask what influence arXiv has had on the role of conventional journal
publications. Some indication of an answer may be found by consulting statistical data from the
system taken at 3-month intervals (see Appendix: Tables A and B)39
The figures show for each archive in the database, how many papers are submitted per
month for three years (2000, 2001 and 2002), and how many existing citation references have been
added to the database, referred to at arXiv as the ‘Journal-Ref’; in Tables A and B these are also
presented in terms of percentages (‘in print’, ‘%’).40
Tables A and B are two snapshots in time, showing the number of submissions for each
archive and how many of them are already accepted for publication in some journal, while the
comparison of Tables A and B shown in Table 1 shows the traffic of new journal citations over these
three months. At first glance, an obvious diversity appears in Tables A and B with regard to the
average percentage of papers that have been provided with citation references: the proportion is
much greater for the ‘high energy physics’, ‘nuclear physics’ and ‘general relativity & quantum
cosmology’ archives than for all the other archives. A second feature becomes evident in Table 1: a
much greater proportion of citation references are added during the three months between April and
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July 2003, for papers posted in 2002 than for papers originally posted over the other two years, and
this applies to most of the archives.
The data in Table 1 can be explained by considering the time it takes to get a paper
published, but normally a citation reference is available within one year and can in principle be
uploaded at that point. The different rates between archives shown in Tables A and B are more
complicated to explain, and the data invite further exploration of questions such as: (1) how to
account for the enormous size difference between some of the archives; (2) how to explain the
different upload patterns of papers and citation references; or (3) how to explain the large range of
preprint/citation reference ratios. I will leave these questions for future research, and here examine
what an automated daily upload of citation references may indicate.
The SLAC library reports daily to arXiv and provides data for an automated upload of new
journal references. This SLAC service still primarily caters to HEP. There is much relevant material
for some other disciplines, such as condensed matter physics and astrophysics, and SLAC attempts
to cover papers on condensed matter that are cross listed into other archives of special interest to the
HEP community. Furthermore, in connection with a recently established collaboration with
Fermilab, SLAC decided to start uploading the full astrophysics archive.41 When a similar status
check was done in spring 2002 and shown to advocates of the arXiv system, the immediate
response was that more is published in some journals. The rest are mostly dissertations,
proceedings, and other materials that are not likely to be published in journals. The reason for this is
that the automated processing is unlikely to find every reference that exists. And the much lower
figures for the other archives should be explained by the lack of an automated citation harvesting
and upgrading feature.42 When a coordinator for mathematics papers was shown these data, he
responded with a similar comment to the effect that the low citation reference figures for
mathematics do not present everything that is published in conventional journals.43 This is because
no automated harvesting of citation references is implemented for mathematics. Although it
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Table 1
Increase in available citation references in April-July 2003, for papers originally published in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Courtesy of Cornell University Library.
Notes: See Tables A and B in Appendix. There is a clear increase in references added to the 2002 papers over this
period. The trend is most noticeable for papers submitted into the ‘hep’, ‘nucl’, ‘gr-qc’, ‘quant-ph’, ‘cond-mat’, and
‘nlin’ archives.
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seems clear that almost every archived paper eventually goes into conventional publication, the
problem remains to better automate the ‘harvesting’ of information on journal publication.44
If the explanations provided by arXiv advocates are taken seriously, two challenging
questions arise. (1) If the centralized and automated author self-archival system can provide all the
mediation needed for communicating and sufficiently certifying ongoing research, why do all the
scientists still submit to journals?(2) If journal publications are indeed so important to scientists,
why are submitters so lax about manually providing citation references to their already posted
submissions in arXiv?
In the following section, I will argue that the utilization of new, effective and fascinating
facilities such as arXiv has had very little impact on the broader social and cultural meaning of
conventional journal publication. To simplify greatly, one can say arXiv represents an evaluation
and local agreement of ‘significance’, while conventional journal publication represents an
evaluation and broader social agreement about ‘verity’.45
The Certified Journal is a Cultural Object
The early sociology of science identified the origin of the conventional refereeing system
with the developing science societies of the seventeenth century. Institutionalisation of peer review
came with the first journal publication, the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of the Royal Society - more
precisely, with the control that its council possessed over the content of the journal (Zuckerman &
Merton, 1971). Ever since then, journal publications have played an important role in identifying a
scientific elite. The early literature agreed that the process of peer evaluation, by virtue of the
culturally granted authority of formal refereeing, provided the warrant for scientists to build on the
cumulative work of their peers. It also offers a status hierarchy based on honour and esteem.46
Literary strategies play an essential role in the conversion of research into publication. Such
strategies mediate scientific research and reasoning because much of the ongoing work during a
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research period is forgotten when the publication process, framing those events, takes over.47 Shapin
and Schaffer’s (1985; Shapin, 1984) notion of ‘virtual witnessing’ describes a literary technology
used as part of the early experimental life which contrasts from ‘direct’ witnessing of an
experiment. Given the limited access provided by an account of an experiment, the importance of
having credible witnesses, and the limitations to a replication of experiments, literary technology
became a means to broaden the circle of witnesses. The style of writing and the introduction of
pictorial illustrations helped to establish an authority of the written paper.
Virtual witnessing relieves the tension of being excluded from the core group of direct
witnesses, but contemporary esoteric science introduces the further problem of expert readership,
which imposes a tension between core-groups and surrounding social domains. Even the virtual
witnessing of research results in contemporary physical science and mathematics for example,
usually limited to core-group members and their research associates; people outside the inner circle
are unlikely to find such results intelligible or useful. The core group’s literary technology produces
more or less meaningless prose to all but those that have been extensively trained and socialised
into a highly specialized practice.48 Although colleagues in the close-knit networks do not even read
conventional journal publications, because they have long since read the preprints, it remains the
case that scientists are not promoted and do not receive grants and other professional rewards if they
do not produce conventionally certified publications in respectable journals. The arXiv system has
had very little if any influence upon such professional certification. Advocates of the system are
aware of this fact: they recognize the added value of journal publication for (in their terms) ‘extra-
social’ purposes. For example, a mathematician I corresponded with described two stages of
promotion at the mathematics department of the University of California, Davis:
Both merits and promotions are first voted on by the department. If the vote
is (sufficiently) favourable, the chair writes a letter to the administration
recommending the action. Then the dean approves the action on the advice of
an ‘ad hoc’ committee. In the case of UC Davis mathematics, the Dean
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oversees math, physics, chemistry, statistics, and geology, and the ‘ad hoc’
committee is drawn only from these departments. Merits stop there.
Promotions pass on to the next level, at which the committee on academic
personnel’ (CAP) advises a ‘vice provost’. CAP is a campus-wide 9-member
committee. It is as likely to have a historian or a veterinarian as a
mathematician.49 [emphasis added]
When a bull’s eye model for core-groups and their surrounding social domains (Figure 3) is used to
characterize the promotion of the hypothetical mathematics researcher at UC Davis described in the
above quote, the certification provided with formal peer review and conventional journal
publication clearly serves assessments by groups outside the core of the candidate’s discipline.50 A
distinction can be drawn in this case between (1) scientists as expert readers and (2) scientists as
authors.51 The reader uses the electronic medium interactively, and does not necessarily keep track
of paper versions or citation references. An arXiv user reads preprints and consults directly with
Core-group scientists in an academic institutional setting
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colleagues to resolve any uncertainties. However, when acting as authors, scientists have no choice
but to care greatly whether or not their papers have been or will be formally published, because they
must compile a record of research activities in a widely recognized and culturally entrenched form,
recognizable to ‘outsiders’.52 This is an odd situation.
Core-groups in a given science do not wait for certified publication before consulting
research results, and have more or less ceased reading journal papers in their final published form.
Once certified, such papers have no direct ‘use value’ for hands-on practice. However, even though
journal publication remains crucial for short-term professional evaluations, for longer-term
historical judgements of a given contribution – determining whether or not it signifies a ‘permanent’
contribution and represents ‘excellence’ – such publication may provide a premature indication, and
is thereby not very ‘useful’ either.
It is entirely possible to run into a dilemma when some of the consequences of the current
situation are examined further. Assume that arXiv’s proponents are right when they claim that the
only purpose remaining for a costly formal peer review process is to certify members and maintain
order in a discipline. The question then is: Is the validation process that is now in place through the
electronic and networked system not adequate for that purpose as well? The necessary facility may
be already be present, in a crude way, so that the only thing needed to certify individual papers
would be something like an automated online expert voting system with regular deadlines. There
would not be any need to publish papers separately, in print or electronically, through conventional
peer review processes, because the papers are already in circulation and the real problem is simply
to establish a way to formally encode certification that particular contributions have been graded
and passed inspection. Consequently, a researcher would be able to produce the certificate when
applying for grants or promotion. For arXiv advocates, this purpose could be accomplished through
a simple addition to the arXiv preprint identifier, which would look something like a grade letter
‘V’ for verified, ‘yy-mm’ for year and month of certification, and a two step evaluation, ‘nn-nn’
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checked off for general confirmation of important results and un-checked general confirmation of
expected results.53 A before and after example would look like this:
Journal-ref: Nucl.Phys. B648 (2003) 131-160
Certification-ref: hep-th/0209045: V 03-05, 3-1
Formally, both resemble certificates, and there is nothing to prevent the process from being
implemented, since all the relevant technologies are available and the argument for economic and
practical feasibility is widely understood. A problem does not arise until the current state of the
world gently whispers that the ‘Journal-ref is actual code but the ‘Certification-ref’ is not.
Certification-ref: hep-th/0209045: V 03-05, 3-1’ is currently only an imagined code and it remains
to be determined who are the expert voters.54
The divorce of the two values associated with publication - immediate efficiency in practice,
that is to say direct use value on one hand, and social-cultural token value, on the other hand - might
explain why arXiv patrons are not under much pressure to manually upload their citation references
to arXiv. The citation references are authoritative cultural objects, not useful objects like preprints
in the ‘lab’.55 This also leaves unanswered a question about the extent to which traditional journal
publications lend authority to the preprint exchange. Could the preprint exchange possibly exist
without them? Historically, the two systems have operated in connection with one another. DESY
collected both published and unpublished works and so did CERN. PPF and PPA were two
components of the same publication, and when examined closely it appears that the authority of the
arXiv repository depends on citation references.56
Traditions in journal publication only reinforce the social mechanisms already at work in all
knowledge cultures: a pecking order in the professional life based on the evaluation of knowledge-
production.57 Scientists are sensitive to notions of prestige and status: they want the best references
and citations from authoritative sources. Conventional journals confer status for papers, and
colleagues certainly notice where their peers are published. It may be a laudable goal to defy the
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practices of profiteering trade publishers, particularly in response to an unpleasant monopoly-like
situation. But it would pose a serious problem to be in direct opposition to the publishing practices
of learned science societies, such as the British Royal Society or the American Physical Society,
with their firmly rooted and broadly recognized authority and long tradition.
Concluding Remarks
Revolutions do not happen overnight. Subscriptions to print journals decrease steadily by
approximately 3-5% per year, and online subscriptions are slowly taking over.58 More peer-
reviewed papers are made freely available on the web, new online-only journals crop up and arXiv
grows steadily, disseminating submissions from all around the world.59 A survey in 2002 showed
that respondents across all disciplines overwhelmingly agree (either moderately or strongly) that
they are confident that they can find more relevant information on the Internet than was available
only 2 years earlier, and they overwhelmingly disagree (either moderately or strongly) that the
Internet has not changed the way they use libraries.60 Publishers of the learned science society
journals whose members use arXiv have accepted the preprint culture. For example, the American
Physical Society journals have allowed direct electronic submissions from arXiv since November
1996, the Journal of High Energy Physics (JHEP) since 1997, and the UK Institute of Physics’
journals have done so since March 2001.61
I have attempted to show how arXiv differentiates between solutions to what I call
epistemological and logistical objections. It may be unnecessary to answer the epistemological
objection – that arXiv will disseminate poor science and misinformation – when the system is
limited to the exchange of research literature among members of core-groups. One reason why this
is possible is because formal peer review only checks papers for obvious errors and potential
significance for ongoing research. What is correct and useful science on the other hand, must be
determined by members of core-sets and core-groups, who usually are the only readers with
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sufficient interest and technical know-how to assess the usefulness, value and validity of the
contents. If they can get their hands on fresh research results, they prefer not to wait for that
research to appear in a journal.
Logistical controls – designed to forestall what I call the logistical objection that arXiv will
produce a flood of irrelevant papers – are managed separately but their operation still remains
problematic. While arXiv attempts to automate the vetting of membership, relevancy, and even
subject matter, human input is needed to complete these tasks adequately. Furthermore, broad social
agreement is lacking on how logistical controls should be managed for certifying or validating the
literature in a wider social–cultural context. These observations call for a comparison of
communication networks in academia. How are networks constituted and maintained in disciplines
other than those discussed in this paper? How esoteric and close-knit do the disciplines grow and
consequently, to what extent are quick ‘on-topic’ or ‘off-topic’ selections used in their publishing
practices? In other words, how are controls implemented in the everyday scholarly practices and the
editorial settings?
While these questions remain unanswered, the relationship between unrefereed arXiv
preprints and their formally refereed counterparts also remains unclear. The arXiv case
demonstrates how validity of research is granted on two levels, first in the open exchange of
unrefereed papers and later by way of scientific publications that lend the vital token value to the
work. The existence of the latter has granted the former the authority to prevail and become an
established structure for communicating and validating research, and it still does, while at the same
time the demand for rapid exchange and implementation of ever more efficient logistical controls
becomes the norm of the scientific practice, weakening the status of traditional publication. The
effects will be felt in wider social–cultural contexts and journals are prone to change.
There are further uncertainties about this two-headed process of research validation that
arXiv has introduced. I will give three examples. (1) Citations play an important role inside and
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outside of core-groups to determine, at least to some extent, the influence of a given paper in a
research community. ArXiv preprints by established authors may be heavily cited before they are
formally refereed.62 (2) In 2002, the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity published an paper by a
group of gravitational wave physicists that caused much stir with some other members of the core-
set. The group deliberately did not post the preprint in arXiv because they knew it would attract
criticism from other core-set members and probably never be accepted. Members with opposing
views felt forced to publish a formal response, whereas if the paper had only been posted with arXiv
they could have directed their criticisms through informal channels.63 (3) The ‘reverse Alan Sokal
hoax’64 is a case that left open whether language can be employed to fake physics and get hoax
papers through peer reviews. This case invites the speculation of what would have happened, had
the works in question been submitted first to arXiv and that way exposed to the research community
prior to formal review.
These three examples are all somewhere on the margins, where it is not clear what the
authority is of either the journal publication or the unrefereed preprint exchange, but case
studies of such incidents could perhaps bring to fore the essence of the problem of
understanding the relationship between them. I like to argue that the arXiv case is enlightening
in the sense that its operations have introduced a two-headed beast, while it remains largely
hidden to what degree members of other academic sectors communicate their works-in-
progress and rely on peers for validation while composing papers and writing reports. The
arXiv case is also helpful in the sense that it demonstrates how aggregating and disseminating
research literature is largely a matter of logistics. It is an attempt to organize and communicate
mass amounts of mainstream works. ArXiv is very successful at doing so, and its advocates
remain proud that almost all the papers eventually are published with reputable journals: ‘The
standard of work archived at Los Alamos is very high. 70% of papers are eventually published
in journals and another 20% are in conference proceedings’ (O’Connell, 2002).
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I wish to thank all those who contributed to the writing of this paper by providing me with corrections and
useful tips, by communicating individual issues over time and by reading over this text at various stages and
pointing out to me ways to better capture the basic themes. In alphabetical order, Harry Collins, Robert
Evans, Paul Ginsparg, Greg Kuperberg, Michael Lynch, Heath O'Connell, Andrew Odlyzko, Trevor Pinch,
Thorsten Schwander, Simeon Warner and the anonymous referees. I also wish to thank the School of Social
Sciences at Cardiff University for providing me with an office in the beautiful Glamorgan Building while I
was working on the first draft of this paper under Harry Collins’ supervision, my employers and co-workers
at Cornell University Library, in particular Thomas Hickerson and Marcy Rosenkrantz, for all their patience,
and my arXiv co-workers for putting up with a rather odd arXiv admin-persona for so long.
1 Method of research: I was employed as a programmer/analyst specialist at Cornell University Library from January
2001 until August 2003. For almost two years during this time, I was assigned technical administration for supporting
daily submissions to arXiv. I acquired first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the system as both a technical and
a social object, and was involved in some of the institutional migration process from Los Alamos National Laboratories
to Cornell University Library, including broad examination of system needs, planning new developments and
addressing policy issues. The contents of this paper are based on participant observation (and comprehension; Collins,
1985:171-172). The text draws from my knowledge and experience, and from my understanding of the burning issues
debated by advocates of the arXiv model and related initiatives. I draw from personal/professional communication that
includes extensive unrecorded conversation in the workplace and off the record; in person, at meetings and over the
phone. This communication is supplemented with notes and email exchanges to follow up on key topics. All statistical
data that I have collected and processed are publicly accessible using Internet harvesting protocols and I contacted my
correspondents regarding the use of spoken and written remarks and gave them copies of a draft to examine.
2 Arpanet was conceived and planned by Joseph Carl Robnett, ‘Lick’ Licklider, and others, for the Information
Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) of US defence research, of which Licklider was the first director. An interactive
overview of the email and Internet and related histories is available at
3 A trend in the development of the service was to add specialities that cater to interests of high-energy physics, although
the growth of the system has stretched to other communities. Archives included as of October 2004 were:
High energy physics - theory, since 08/91
High energy physics - lattice, since 02/92
Mathematics (includes subject classes), since 02/92
High energy physics - phenomenology, since 03/92
Astrophysics, since 04/92
Condensed matter (includes subject classes), since 04/92
General relativity and quantum cosmology, since 07/92
Nuclear physics - theory, since 10/92
Nonlinear sciences (includes subject classes), since 01/93
Computer science (includes subject classes), since 01/93
High energy physics - experimental, since 04/94
Nuclear physics - experimental, since 12/94
Quantum physics, since 12/94
Mathematical physics, since 09/96
Physics (includes subject classes), since 10/96
Quantitative biology (includes subject classes), since 09/03
4 See for example Bijker (1987), on the theory of invention and Hughes (1985, 1986) on ignoring disciplinary
boundaries and on technology as problem-solving systems and means for reordering the world. Also see Woolgar
(1991) on configuring users and machines.
5 The notion of ‘core-group’ (a group of researchers and research units who actively and interactively engage in a
scientific research area) was coined by Collins (1985; see discussion in Collins, 1999). The larger community that I
refer to as ‘HEP’ comprises more than one core-group, and much of the literature that is of interest to that community is
read across the boundaries of core-groups. This can surely raise a problem when preprints are inspected, but that
problem is the same as with formally published works. In both cases uncertainty can arise, but I argue that the delay of
formal publications gives arXiv salience for immediate research uses, and more immediate communication channels
(consultancy for example) are used to settle uncertainties introduced with preprints.
6 For an insiders’ account of the early history of technical implementations for arXiv and its patrons, see Ginsparg at
7 The page number refers to the available online version at
8 This section largely follows a historical overview by Heath O’Connell (2002), published with High Energy Physics
Libraries Webzine and available at It also draws from discussions with
correspondents that helped clarify my own understanding of this and other historical records.
9 Ibid., at
10 See Donald E. Knuth’s web page at, also about TeX use at
11 The arXiv operation is all Linux based using mainly the Perl programming language, and it has until very recently
been exclusively Unix/Linux oriented and expected its patrons to feed only source data from papers. Patrons have
always been expected to be competent in scientific computing, which includes an understanding and being up-to-date
about the operational details behind digital imaging and image conversion, writing and compiling TeX source,
postscript interpretation of documents, the use of font files, document style files and other factors that are at play in the
arXiv system.
12 See
13 See their site at This technology is referred to as aggregation services of digital
14 On a technical note, it is interesting that, although the development and maintenance of the auto-TeX compiler has
contributed to the ‘open-source’ GhostScript developments in accordance with ‘open-source’ ideology, and that the
design of arXiv has been all free-ware computing, the arXiv system source has never been made available to the public
under any scheme such as the Open Source Initiative, see One reason for this is that it has
never been sufficiently complete as a system to be one single software package, which is transferable (and manageable)
as such, but is a compilation of many such packages. See also as one example of large scale, Open
Source development organization.
15 See Bijker 1987 and Pinch and Bijker 1984, 1987. But referring simply to a ‘technological system’ already suggests a
system of social arrangements (Woolgar, 1991; MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1985).
16 Quantitative biology started posting on arXiv in September 2003. See also the ‘Math Front’ at UC Davis for an entry
to all the math specialties that use arXiv, at
17 See Ginsparg (2001). He offers a detailed discussion of these figures. They are used in a talk given in 2001 and are
clearly ‘ball park’ figures. However, they measure against APS revenues as an example of a professional society
disseminating output, against Elsevier as an example of a for-profit trade publisher, and so forth. An average figure was
estimated of about US$50,000 per produced scientific paper in HEP. This cost would typically cover the expenses of
research: namely, salaries, overhead and experimental equipment, but not the editorial, printing and distribution costs of
the final paper. In other words, the output would still need to be published. Then a comparison was made between a
pricey trade publisher in the field with US$10,000-20,000 per paper in revenues, a professional society in physics
estimated to generate about US$2,000 per paper in revenues, an operation that takes data feed from an existing print
publisher and converts it to Web readable formats, operating at approximately US$100 per paper and more. It was also
pointed out that managing the conventional editorial process could never cost less than around US$1000 for each peer
reviewed and published physics paper, given the way this process is generally orchestrated. However a point was made
in personal communication about this particular claim, to the effect that the figure reflects the cost of peer review in
physics by the American Physical Society journals, and that the cost of the peer review process can vary greatly,
depending on discipline and the type of process.
18 For example Greg Kuperberg, professor of mathematics at UC Davis, argues that open reviews, such as Math
Reviews and Zentralblatt, provide a much more helpful screening and evaluation of the mathematical literature than the
anonymous refereeing system is capable of (Kuperberg, 2002).
19 See also Kuperberg (2002). Both Ginsparg and Kuperberg argue that there exists a persistent and misleading
idealisation of the role of formal peer review.
20 Ginsparg, (2003) asks if the peer review could be better ‘focused’, as he puts it.
21 The author probed specially for this view among arXiv programmers in a project meeting with them 12th of February
22 See Traweek (1988), chapter 3, on this matter in the HEP community. She speaks at length about the sorting
mechanisms and, interestingly, in her observation the young physicists are never made aware of this process. It is often
only the ‘bright and blunt bastards’ that catch on to what is expected of them.
23 For an interesting input, see Bachrach et al. (1998).
24 To take some examples, the home of Information Research: an International Electronic Journal, offers a title page of
well-known electronic journals that are peer reviewed but free of charge, at h ttp://
The Public Library of Science (PloS) is another initiative that calls on scientists in biology and medical research to
resist the privatisation of scientific knowledge, see Trade publishers have been able to establish a
monopoly-like situation because university libraries and research institutions have no choice but to subscribe to
academic journal publications in order to uphold proper status of their institutions. See also an
archive of peer-reviewed life science journals that are free of charge. Stevan Harnad is one pioneer who should also be
mentioned: he has written numerous papers on the subject; see for example, Harnad (1998, 2001). His contributions
include among other things the project. This project is dedicated to opening access, through
so-called distributed author-institution self-archiving and is meant to operate alongside the formal peer review process
and to take advantage of reference linking and aggregation services to maximize the distribution of works. He is also
the founder of
25 Just to give one example, the engineering library at Cornell University cancelled 35 subscriptions for an annual
charge of US$59,000 in autumn 2003. According to a statement from the director of collection management, electronic-
only format at that point was priced at 115% of the cost of a paper subscription with the same trade publisher.
26 See Kling, Fortuna & King (2001) for an interesting treatment of the E-Biomed experiment for medical research (a
mix of refereed and unrefereed works), which later became a non-profit scientific publishing of peer-reviewed works as
the Public Library of Science (PloS) at, and also PubMed Central, whose service offers free access
to already existing life science journals at
27 See for example Knorr-Cetina (1999) for comparisons of the cultures of high energy physics and molecular biology;
also Collins (1999), on expert readership; Hilgartner (1997), on the Sokal affair; and Kling, Fortuna & King (2001), on
the failure of the unrefereed exchange service of the E-Biomed proposal.
28 See for example the first three pages of (listing the BABAR Collaboration).
29 Knorr-Cetina (1999). Chapters 7 & 8 discuss the notion of erasing and restoring the individual as an epistemic
30 Somewhat related to this is an interesting discussion about the debate between Thomas Hobbes and the
experimentalists over the notion of ‘public’ in pubic witnessing in the early experimental life (Shapin and Schaffer,
1985). It is clear that high-level competence is mandatory in order to evaluate works, whether by direct inspection or
aided by consultation from colleagues.
31 See Hughes (1985, 1987) for an interesting discussion about system builders, ignoring disciplinary boundaries. He
also suggests that analytical categories (political, science, technology, economics) should be used sparingly.
32 See for example Bijker (1987), for a theory of invention; also Pinch and Bijker (1984, 1987) on the social
construction of facts and artefacts; and MacKenzie and Wajcman (1985) for introductory essays.
33 MacKenzie and Wajcman (1985) talk about building on already existing solutions, and about gradual developments,
new combinations and new configurations, for which existing technology is a precondition. Hughes (1987) suggests
that systems with high momentum tend to exert soft determinism on other systems, groups and individuals.
34 Star and Griesemer (1989) discuss boundary objects, such as repositories and descriptive objects, and argue that they
are plastic enough to adapt to various local needs, but robust enough to maintain common identities across sites. Seen in
relationship to methods standardization, they point out that consensus is not a necessary condition for entities to
cooperate, or for successful conduct.
35 See for example Woolgar (1991), MacKay and Gillespie (1992) and Pinch and Trocco (2002). Also see Bohlin (2004)
for a discussion of stabilization processes in the competition between new science communication regimes, as he
describes them. Bohlin also points out how his use of the SCOT model is untypical, precisely because so much is
unsettled; but he importantly points out that it will not be some sort of a system superiority that determines the outcome.
36 A sizeable group of authors have problems using TeX when it comes to uploading their source files into an automated
TeX compiler at arXiv. Astrophysicists have openly complained about having to compress their figure plots and colour
photos ‘more efficiently’ according to the arXiv technical administration. See also an interesting and related discussion
in Pinch and Trocco (2002) about how users of music synthesizers mostly use pre-set sounds and do not take advantage
of the possibility to develop new sounds with the instrument.
37 Greg Kuperberg, professor of mathematics at UC Davis leads a group of moderators for mathematics specialities who
have shaped this process to their own special needs. Kuperberg also was commissioned to assist with an ongoing
research project on the development of the auto-TeX system and the TeX services.
38 It is also very interesting to look more closely at the involvement, over time, of the areas of physics that are remote
from HEP; which already indicates a divorce of designers from patrons. Designers shift to operating as a group of
socially and culturally distant software engineers in the frustrating situation of attempting to cater to needs of a largely
unknown body of customers. It is a well-known situation that leads to all sorts of unpredictable and problematic results.
See an interesting sociological perspective in Woolgar (1991).
39 Refer to the following translations of the abbreviations used for the archives in the system:
astro-ph, - - - - Astrophysics
cond-mat, - - - - Condensed Matter
cs, - - - - Computer Science
gr-qc, - - - - General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology
hep-ex, - - - - High Energy Physics – Experiment
hep-lat, - - - - High Energy Physics – Lattice
hep-ph, - - - - High Energy Physics – Phenomenology
hep-th, - - - - High Energy Physics – Theory
math, - - - - Mathematics
math-ph, - - - - Mathematical Physics
nlin, - - - - Nonlinear Sciences
nucl-ex, - - - - Nuclear Experiment
nucl-th, - - - - Nuclear Theory
physics, - - - - Physics
quant-ph, - - - - Quantum Physics
40 The so-called ‘Journal-Ref’ in arXiv is strictly used for existing journal citations when they become available and
those references are either provided by services that automatically harvest them (SLAC) or they are provided manually
by the authors themselves. Consequently, the column marked ‘%in print’ in the Appendix (Tables A and B) refers to
the percentage of papers in the database that are already published.
41 From phone conversation and email exchange with library personnel at SLAC
42 From phone conversation, office talk and email exchange with arXiv advocates and personnel.
43 Greg Kuperberg at UC Davis manages this work and he also maintains the UC Davis Math Front to math papers in
arXiv, see their site at
44 From phone conversation, office talk and email exchange with arXiv advocates and personnel.
45 Andrew Odlyzko framed a similar distinction in his paper ‘Peer review and non-peer review’, between significance
and correctness, as he puts it, Odlyzko (2001b).
46 See also Hagstrom 1965, chapters I & II.
47 See Knorr-Cetina (1981), Latour and Woolgar (1979) for discussions of the scientific paper as an end product of
research and a retrospective construction of that research.
48 An interesting borderline case here, as regards physics, would be the story of the Bogdanov brothers. Apparently they
employed the correct language and earned a degree in physics, but left the physics community uncertain as to whether
their work was a hoax. One measure is to say that they never worked with anyone, and were never in collaboration with
known bodies, which is usually questionable in the larger research community. A good entry to the Bogdanov case is a
letter from John Baez to the Google newsgroup ‘sci.physics.research’ 2002-10-23, pointing out the possible hoax. It has
links to their thesis, CVs and four paper references, see
49 From email exchange with an arXiv moderator, June 2003.
50 This example is only one of many promotion mechanisms in academia, which apparently are quite similar from one
institution to another, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Such similarity supports the main argument here, that academic
status and prestige are obtained in an interdisciplinary social setting. However, there are outer social circles that differ
importantly from those identified here. Two of my correspondents pointed out that the peer review process has direct
use value, for example in mathematics and some areas of physics. Large numbers of scientists live on the outskirts of
the practice, and therefore they rely on bibliographies, citation figures, and citation references in their work. For
example, teachers in universities and institutes of higher education who teach the science to a certain degree, but are
themselves not contributors to the construction of scientific knowledge.
51 See for example Kuperberg (2002) and Guédon (2001).
52 See also Ginsparg (2003) where he talks about a ‘desired signal’ that individual researchers or groups wish to or are
required to ‘transmit’.
53 This is of course a playful example, but the general idea is in accordance with the type of peer review that physicists
and mathematicians, using arXiv, can and do expect from conventional publications. The content is usually only
checked for relevance to ongoing research; that is to say, it is accepted if it is interesting and not obviously wrong.
54 Ginsparg (2003) actually discusses the possibility of gaining better focus to peer review process, and he asks if it is
really the case that the ‘desired signal’ can only come from the traditional publication practices that cost $1000 for each
55 There is likely to be more to this situation. While the lack of motivation can be directly associated with career care-
taking, two of my correspondents said they would like to see further studies on differences in rank or in age group, for
example, given that younger persons might be more eager to supply an electronic system with a journal reference, in
hope of attracting more readers through the online system, while established scientists can rely on their reputation and
other channels. Also, there may be some relationship between the fact that the older generations used to have secretaries
to typeset their papers and generally take care of things like getting papers to publishers and polishing curricula vita,
while the younger and computer savvy generations have taken on these tasks themselves.
56 This valuable point was made to me by Neil Stephens during a session in which I introduced a draft of this paper to
colleagues in the Knowledge, Expertise and Science (KES) group at Cardiff University.
57 See Guédon, 2001, chapter III.
58 See Odlyzko (2001a) for statistics on the use of scientific literature in different formats and discussion about slow and
fast changes.
59 See
60 The full set of all 659 tables (35 questions) is available at, Friedlander 2002.
61 See also Bohlin (2004) for discussion of this trend in journal policy.
62 A correspondent pointed out a single case in arXiv from November 1997 that wasn't
formally published for roughly a year, but was the most cited paper in 1998. The author had 26 papers in arXiv dated
before that one, and of these 25 published with elite publications, most of them already published at that point.
Currently SLAC shows over 3250 citations of this one paper.
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Table A
Table B
... These include the extent of the adoption of open access publishing (e.g., Gargouri et al. 2012;Archambault et al. 2014;Crawford 2015;Wohlgemuth et al. 2017;Piwowar et al. 2018;Martín-Martín et al. 2018;Abediyarandi and Mayr 2019;Huang et al. 2020;Hobert et al. 2020), the attitudes towards open access (e.g., Creaser et al. 2010;Kim 2011), possible citation advantages of OA publications over non-OA publications (e.g., Lawrence 2001; Kurtz et al. 2005;Harnad and Brody 2004;Archambault et al. 2016), as well as the structure of the publication market and journal prices (e.g., Dewatripont et al. 2006;Ware and Mabe 2015;Larivière et al. 2015). What is missing with few exceptions (Gunnarsdóttir 2005) are studies that aim to draw a more contextualized picture and analyze the evolvement of publication models in the context of disciplinary cultures. In particular, the question under what circumstances an OA publication model succeeds and is being adopted by a scientific community so far remains unanswered. ...
... In astronomy as well as mathematics, a central disciplinary repository was established at an early point, namely, at the beginning (astronomy) and end (mathematics) of the 1990s, thus even before the term open access was coined in a science policy debate. In both disciplines, the repository did not replace journals but acts as a second layer of the communication system (Gunnarsdóttir 2005). The reason for not replacing them can be pinpointed with reference to the four functions of the communication system of science: given that the point in time of self-archiving is recorded (as part of the rule aspect of the infrastructure), repositories register claims for new results and findings and exercise the registration function. ...
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Open access (OA) to publications has become a major topic in science policy. However, electronic publication providing free access to research via the internet is more than a decade older, was invented in the 1990s and driven by parts of the scientific community. This paper focuses on two disciplines (astronomy and mathematics) in which green OA is well established. It asks how authors and readers use the central disciplinary repository and how they are thereby included in the communication system of their disciplines. Drawing on an interview study with 20 scientists from both disciplines, we analyze the main characteristics of an inclusion, possible problems that result from it and how they are being solved. The empirical results show that there is a complementarity between the routines of authors and readers that co-stabilize each other. This finding suggests that the emergence of complementary routines could be a necessary condition for the green OA model to succeed.
... The answer to that question is preprint. By preprint we mean the circulation of papers amongst scholars before the work is even submitted to a scientific journal Gunnarsdottir (2005). The tool that is predominantly used today is a large preprint database called arXiv 2 . ...
... 3 For a detailed overview of the development of arXiv and its precursors seeGunnarsdottir (2005).4 In the slipstream of the emergence of a digital preprint culture a typesetting tool was developed called TeX and later LaTeX. ...
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Even though the use of open preprint databases for scholarly publications is commonplace in several disciplines, their possibilities remain largely unexplored in the humanities. This article examines the emergence and the dynamics of academic preprint and evaluates the possibilities for introducing preprint for the humanities.
... From an author perspective, commentators are reporting a sharp increase in the use of preprint servers. On these online platforms, authors upload their manuscript, making it publicly accessible immediately upon finalization of the text (Gunnarsdottir, 2005). Because no review, editorial assessment, or copyediting takes place, manuscripts can be made accessible without publication delay. ...
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In times of public crises, including the current Covid-19 pandemic, rapid dissemination of relevant scientific knowledge is of paramount importance. The duration of scholarly journals’ publication process is one of the main factors that may hinder quick delivery of new information. Following initiatives of medical journals to accelerate their publication process, this study assesses whether medical journals have managed to speed up their publication process for Coronavirus related articles. It studies the duration of 14 medical journals’ publication process both during and prior to the current pandemic. Assessing a total of 669 articles, the study concludes that medical journals have indeed strongly accelerated their publication process for Coronavirus related articles since the outbreak of the pandemic: time between submission and publication has decreased on average by 49%. The largest decrease in number of days between submission and publication of articles was due to a decrease in time required for peer review. For articles not related to Covid-19, no acceleration of the publication process is found. While the acceleration of journals’ publication process is laudable from the perspective of quick information dissemination, it also may raise concerns relating to the peer review process’ quality and the quality of the resulting publications.
... From an author perspective, commentators are reporting a sharp increase in the use of preprint servers. On these online platforms, authors upload their manuscript, making it publicly accessible immediately upon finalization of the text (Gunnarsdottir, 2005). Because no review, editorial assessment or copyediting takes place, manuscripts can be made accessible without publication delay. ...
Full-text available
In times of public crises, including the current Covid-19 pandemic, rapid dissemination of relevant scientific knowledge is of paramount importance. The duration of scholarly journals' publication process is one of the main factors hindering quick delivery of new information. While proper editorial assessment and peer review obviously require some time, turnaround times for medical journals can be up to several months, which is undesirable in the era of a crisis. Following initiatives of medical journals and scholarly publishers to accelerate their publication process, this study assesses whether medical journals have indeed managed to speed up their publication process for Covid-19 related articles. It studies the duration of 14 medical journals' publication process both during and prior to the current pandemic. Assessing a total of 669 articles, the study concludes that medical journals have indeed drastically accelerated the publication process for Covid-19 related articles since the outbreak of the pandemic. Compared to articles published in the same journals before the pandemic, turnaround times have decreased on average by 49%. The largest decrease in number of days between submission and publication of articles was due to a decrease in the number of days required for peer review. For articles not related to Covid-19, no acceleration of the publication process is found. While the acceleration of journals' publication process is laudable from the perspective of quick information dissemination, it also raises concerns relating to the quality of the peer review process and the quality of the resulting publications.
... Moderators check that content is 'on topic' (rather than checking for accuracy) and endorsement of an author may come from a record of previous submissions, institutional affiliation or via another author who has authored 'a certain number' of papers within the same field. Today arXiv is hosted by Cornell University and is the primary means by which high energy physicists (and several other disciplines within physics, mathematics) access papers (Gunnarsdóttir, 2005). Figure 4.1 below depicts the home page of arXiv, which lists the disciplines and sub-disciplines archived. ...
String theory, over its near five decade history, has attracted a great deal of controversy, which continues to evolve to the present day. The string theory controversy has novel aspects which highlight how contemporary science continues to develop. Those novel aspects include: non-empirical scientific methodologies and theory appraisal; a negotiation of the boundary between science and non-science where the dominant group is forced to defend its authority; and a potentially new form of peer review. With the controversy yet to be settled, at stake is how science is understood within high energy physics, acceptable methods for generating theoretical science and the optimal organization of expert communities. There are many points of conflict in the string wars. Rather than a debate between two incompatible and opposing sides, this thesis offers a more complex understanding of the string wars. The picture that is presented is organised into a taxonomy that groups the points of conflict into debates concerning ‘philosophy’, ‘sociology’, ‘technology’ and ‘methodology’. This approach seeks to shift the understanding of the debates from where it currently stands, namely where the string wars are held up as evidence of an emergent conceptualisation of science that is contested by a traditional conception of science, to a more nuanced understanding. Instead of two opposing sides, characterised by a positive and negative appraisal of string theory, a variety of positions can been identified, each concerning a different point of conflict.
... After its launch in particle physics in 1991, arXiv has quickly expanded to cover a number of subfields. In particle physics, for example, it quickly plateaued to include more than ninety percent of all articles published in the field (Gunnarsdottir, 2005). In 2014, it passed the mark of one million deposited papers across the disciplines it serves. ...
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A free PDF version of the book can be downloaded from by following the "open access" link.
... Because it is a field where academic interests meet those of the biotechnology industry, a diverse ecology of the open and the proprietary appears to be taking shape (Calvert, 2012;Kelty, 2012). The field of High Energy Physics on the other hand is a homogeneous community, making open access pre-publication (via arXiv) a viable solution to the demand for faster circulation of research results (Gunnarsdóttir, 2005). In Psychology, the Open Science initiative is to a large extent a reaction to a crisis. ...
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I describe the attempt by a group of psychologists to reform the discipline into an Open Science (which I will call 'Open Psychology'). I will first argue that their particular version of Open Science reflects the problems that gave rise to it and that it tries to solve. Then I will describe the infrastructure that this group of people is putting in place to facilitate transparency. An important function of this infrastructure is to restrict what are called 'researcher degrees of freedom'. In Psychology, transparency is as much about closing down as it is about opening up. I will then focus on the flagship project of Open Psychology, the Reproducibility Project. According to the Open Psychologists, the neglect of replication is at the core of Psychology's current problems, and their online infrastructure offers the perfect framework to facilitate replication and give it a place in the field's research process. But replication, I will argue, is not just an epistemological, methodological issue: it implies a particular ontology and tries to enact it. The Reproducibility Project, and Open Psychology generally, can be considered as social experiments, that attempt not only to reform Psychology, but also to perform a new psychological object.
L’économie de la science et des revues scientifiques est complexe. Pour mieux comprendre les trajectoires de basculement vers les publications ouvertes, cet article propose de décrire leur « modèle économique » et ce qu’Internet a changé. Après un rapide rappel des questions soulevées par l’accès ouvert, nous proposons d’étudier la revue scientifique comme un « commun de connaissance ». Cela nous fournit un cadre afin de structurer les enjeux pour chaque acteur de la revue, et ainsi de décrire les différents types de revues scientifiques existantes, autour de l’adéquation format-lectorat d’une part et système de validation scientifique d’autre part. Selon les modèles, le format d’accès ouvert peut varier, mais l’enjeu global est plus au niveau de l’accès aux bases de données d’articles (comme données ouvertes), que sur l’évolution du fonctionnement des revues scientifiques. disponible en ligne en version intégrale:
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A critical inquiry into the politics, practices, and infrastructures of open access and the reconfiguration of scholarly communication in digital societies. The Open Access Movement proposes to remove price and permission barriers for accessing peer-reviewed research work—to use the power of the internet to duplicate material at an infinitesimal cost-per-copy. In this volume, contributors show that open access does not exist in a technological or policy vacuum; there are complex social, political, cultural, philosophical, and economic implications for opening research through digital technologies. The contributors examine open access from the perspectives of colonial legacies, knowledge frameworks, publics and politics, archives and digital preservation, infrastructures and platforms, and global communities. he contributors consider such topics as the perpetuation of colonial-era inequalities in research production and promulgation; the historical evolution of peer review; the problematic histories and discriminatory politics that shape our choices of what materials to preserve; the idea of scholarship as data; and resistance to the commercialization of platforms. Case studies report on such initiatives as the Making and Knowing Project, which created an openly accessible critical digital edition of a sixteenth-century French manuscript, the role of formats in Bruno Latour's An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, and the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), a network of more than 1,200 journals from sixteen countries. Taken together, the contributions represent a substantive critical engagement with the politics, practices, infrastructures, and imaginaries of open access, suggesting alternative trajectories, values, and possible futures.
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The unique breed of particle physicists constitutes a community of sophisticated mythmakers--explicators of the nature of matter who forever alter our views of space and time. But who are these people? What is their world really like? Sharon Traweek, a bold and original observer of culture, opens the door to this unusual domain and offers us a glimpse into the inner sanctum.
Objets fronti_re = s'adaptent pour prendre en compte plusieurs points de vue et maintenir une identité entre eux Cet espace de travail se construit grâce à des objets-frontières tels que des systèmes de classification, qui relient entre eux les concepts communs et les rôles sociaux divergents de chaque groupe professionnel. Les objet-frontière contribuent à la stabilité du système de référence en offrant un contexte partagé pour la communication et la coopération. Les objets peuvent être considérés comme frontière (Star et Griesemer, 1989) en tant qu’ils contribuent à la stabilité du système de référence en offrant un contexte partagé pour la communication et la coopération.
Different audiences at different distances from the core-set read scientific papers in different ways. If the institutional circumstances are right, an `inner audience' may try to control an outer audience's reading. In Physics, the literature is sufficiently open to allow some papers that have no credibility with the mainstream to be published. This normally causes no problem within `core-groups' of scientists, because the orthodox interpretation is widely understood. There can still be trouble, however, from those who have not been socialized into the core-group's interpretative framework. Strangers to the field may give credence to papers which the core-group considers to be interpretatively dead. The `strangers' to which I refer are not scientific antagonists but scientists in different specialisms to those in the core-group, as well as policymakers and funders. A problem arises for the core-group when non-core-groupers are drawn into important decisions - as when a Big Science is fighting for funds. The case of heterodox publications in gravitational radiation is examined. It is shown that papers published between 1985 and 1995, of which the core-group could normally be expected to think, `Ho hum - more of this', were strongly attacked. The institutional background of these attacks is explained.