Rules for email addresses in RePEc

July 12, 2012

Many people trust RePEc with their email address. RePEc earned this trust, we believe, by not abusing the use of these email addresses. This has been so far an implicit commitment, as no policy was established. This post now puts in words the practice since the inception of RePEc in 1997, and establishes a few additional rules.

Covered email addresses

These rules cover all email addresses that are collected and used by RePEc and its services. These addresses include those contained in metadata from RePEc archives, from author profiles in the RePEc Author Service, and subscriptions to the various NEP mailing lists.

Display of email addresses

RePEc services, if they choose to display email addresses, commit to always encrypt any public email address to prevent harvesting by robots.

Authors registered with the RePEc Author Service have the option to have their email address not displayed. The option is available as a checkbox on the “contact information” page at the RePEc Author Service. In such a case, the RePEc Author Service does not include the address in the metadata disseminated to other RePEc services.

NEP does not display any email address. Only the list maintainer (the NEP editor) has access to subscription details.

Use of email addresses

RePEc archive and series maintainers receive one monthly email from RePEc with statistics, reminders and links pertaining to their material. They may receive additional messages if a problem arises with their archive or metadata.

RePEc authors also receive a monthly email with statistics, latest citations, and news. It is possible to opt out of the monthly messages by replying to the sender. The RePEc Author Service may also send messages if it suspects an author may have some new works waiting to be claimed.

Email addresses are used as user names in the RePEc Author Service. If a RePEc service requires authentication through the RePEc Author Service, it cannot store this email address unless it is explicitly stated. The authentication form must have a link to a list of authorized services. This list is on the RePEc Author Service site.

NEP subscribers are to receive only messages pertaining to their NEP report, plus rare housekeeping messages. This policy may be amended to also include professional messages, like calls for papers, if relevant to the specific field.

None of the gathered email addresses is to be given, for a fee or not, to any third party. A yearly survey, though, may be conducted on questions relevant to the profession and/or RePEc (one call plus one reminder).

Accuracy of email contacts

It is the responsibility of archive and series maintainers to keep contact information current. This is done by maintaining appropriate coordinates in the archive and series templates of their RePEc archive (files ___arch.rdf and ___seri.rdf). Email addresses are required.

Authors and NEP subscribers are asked to maintain current coordinates so as to reduce the workload of RePEc volunteers. The latter may change an person’s email address in the RePEc Author Service or a NEP mailing lists if it appears to be obsolete.


Why discussion paper archives should not allow the removal of items

August 20, 2011

The archives listed in RePEc differ in their policies regarding withdrawal of items, or replacement of an old item by a newer one. Some archives, like NBER, permit withdrawals and replacements, while others, like  IZA  or MPRA do permit neither withdrawals nor replacements. (ArXiv, the leading archive for physics, has adopted a no withdrawal policy as well.)

I am managing MPRA, which publishes unrefereed discussion papers in economics. In the following, I detail the reasoning underlying MPRA’s policy choice.  As the case for prohibiting withdrawals seems to be strong, it is hoped that other RePEc archives adopt a similar policy if they have not done so already.

Discussion papers are preliminary versions of articles that may appear in their final form in the future. Discussion of these preliminary versions serves to improve them.

Discussion of a discussion paper requires that it can be cited. Citation requires that you can find the cited item, and even the cited phrase at the page given in the citation. In short: The cited item must remain reliably unchanged and retrievable.

In the old days, you mailed typed manuscripts to colleagues, and successively revised your papers in response to their suggestions and criticism. This entailed the problem that your colleagues would refer to different versions. In order to correctly grasp their points, you had to keep track of the different versions you had mailed around. (I never managed.) With a stable Internet address for each version, this tracking can be done over the Internet with ease. Permitting substitution of old versions by new version under the same Internet address would invide confusion and would make citations unreliable.

So the alternative seems to be: Either you keep your papers private and have your discussion in form of private correspondence, or you put them on the Net for public discussion. The second alternative is implied by placing the paper in a discussion paper archive, and this seems to require that identifiable versions remain accessible concurrently.

In addition, there are further reasons for favoring a “no withdrawal” policy by archive maintainers.

– If the final version of a paper ends up in a toll-gated journal, this excludes the majority of economists from reading the final version. The presence of a preliminary version mitigates the problem.

– If the preliminary version is referred to by a hyperlink, the reference becomes largely useless. NEP reports will, for instance, show dead links in such cases. This is a nuisance.

– If problems about priority of findings arise, these may be settled more easily if all versions are available on the Net.

– For archive maintainers, the manual handling of withdrawals requires considerable work. This speaks against the possibility of withdrawals as well. (For large archives, this reason is overwhelming. At MPRA we initially permitted withdrawals, but this proved impracticable and provided the proximate cause for adopting the no-withdrawal policy.)

– Further, the fight against plagiarism is eased by adopting a non-withdrawal policy. Typically, plagiarizers ask for removal of their contribution if detection is imminent. This tends to shade the case. If a plagiary remains in the archive, the case remains transparent. If an item is identified as a plagiary, it is to be marked as such, and the original source indicated. This has additional advantages:

– the interested reader is referred to the original source

– the plagiarizer cannot make his plagiary undone, thereby hiding the offense from scrutiny by potential future employers

– because of that threat, plagiarism becomes more risky and is discouraged.

– problems with plagiarism may be settled more easily and be handled more transparently if all versions are available on the Net. Otherwise, a paper may be plagiarized, the original paper substituted by a revised  version, and priority will go to the plagiary, while the revised version will be counted as a result of plagiarism! This ought to be avoided.

The common objection against a no withdrawal policy is that authors would prefer readers to read the newest version. Yet RePEc provides information about all versions, and the metadata at IDEAS or EconPapers provide alerts about other existing versions. So the readers may choose the most recent one. (Such problems occur all the time, but it would be impractical to introduce the possibility of withdrawing everything, including published papers. For example, I have recently updated a paper published in a journal in 2008 and would like to refer the reader to the new version in the format of a discussion paper which contains important improvements and new material, but there is no way to do that, other than hoping that the reader searches through RePEc or sees the different versions in Google.)

There is, thus, a conflict between the interest of the author to have only his or her favorite version on the Net, and the public that is interested in transparency and unmanipulated documentation. At MPRA, we try to take account for that by indicating if a paper is superseded by a newer version. Further, we offer the possibility to watermark papers as withdrawn by the author, but leave them in the archive.


Polls on ranking disclosures

October 15, 2009

Rankings have become an important part of RePEc and we regularly get request about non-published rankings. Indeed, depending on the ranking in question, only the top 5%, 10% or 20% among authors or institutions are displayed, depending on the geographic or field aggregation. Given the insistence of some requests, I am now considering whether RePEc rankings should be disclosed in a more extensive fashion. Before making any changes, I am seeking the opinion of users.

But first, let me expose the reasons of the limited disclosure so far. Our interest is to have as many institutions and people participate in RePEc, and keep their data there current. Rankings provide the right incentives for this. Thus RePEc participation is our focus, and rankings are an accessory (and we still consider them to be experimental, as the data is still far from complete). We know, however, that at least some people do not like their poor rankings exposed and would thus remove their registration in RePEc if this were exposed. Thus, too extensive ranking disclosure would defeat their purpose. But I have no idea how widespread this would be. The second reason for limited disclosure is that rankings become less reliable as one goes further down the list. Consider, for example, that 28% of all authors have no recorded citation. Third, full disclosure will create a lot of large files and tables. We have about 22000 authors and 4500 institutions to rank…

The following polls are not binding. There results will help to define what users want. Feel free to discuss aspects that go beyond the options of the polls in the comment section (of this post, not of the individual polls). I will then decide what to do. For both author and institution rankings, the options are: 1) keep things as is, 2) disclose all the way to the top half, 3) keep things as is, but provide rankings for the following one in clusters. For example, rank the top 5% as now, then have a list of the top 6-10%, another for the top 10-15%. 4) Provide full rankings. Polls will be open until November 21, 2009.

Update: Polls are now closed. A post soon will discuss results as well as various adjustments to rankings.




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