The value of RePEc — an introduction

I am Thomas Krichel the principal founder of RePEc. This is my second  contribution here. I plan to write more in the com on fundamental aspects of RePEc. And I’ll give some explanation about RePEc history. My particular expertise is how RePEc came about.

Today let me try to say something about the value of RePEc. In some, though not all aspects, RePEc is a digital and open equivalent of what librarians have long been calling abstracting and indexing (A&I) databases. A&I data is must common of academic journal literature. It lists descriptive information about journal articles past and present. These days, such databases appear to be of declining value. Librarians have been canceling with the argument that users want full text, not just an abstract. Here the description of the paper is a poor (wo)man’s version of the document itself, which of course would have that description. For WoPEc‐-the forerunner of RePEc‐-I took the opposite view. The full-text location was simply an attribute of the description of the paper.

In the early 90s, when I started the work on WoPEc, the fact that anything was freely available on the web was seen with some suspicion. I recall a radio comment at that time, about some company, and the comment about them was something like “They are now on the Internet, which is a euphemism for saying that they gone out of business”. Among economists in particular, the notion that free means cheap and cheap means bad, seemed to have a lot of appeal. Therefore I was keen that RePEc should not just be cheaper, but also be better than existing A&I databases. In 1998, I started to work on the key component of that vision, the RePEc Author Service. I designed the service and my student Markus J.R. Klink implemented it. At that point, I was not aware of any A&I product that implemented author identification. And for such there was no way that anybody would have implemented any service that would allow authors to claim papers. Of course the fact that Christian had worked on collection institutional data already was of great help to make this even more attractive.

Well, enough about pioneering works. I did promise to write about the value of RePEc, didn’t I? The key value I see is in identifying documents, authors and institutions and build linkages based on these identifications. Thus even if all papers in economics would be freely available, in open access journals or working papers sites of institutions and they would be staying there, we still would not have implemented the value of RePEc. The value does not come from individuals using a search engine and finding something of interest. Our value comes in the linkages like “this working paper was never published” or “this paper is cited by this other paper”, or “these two authors are co-authors”. If the coverage of economics through RePEc is complete, we can make such assertions with certainty. And we can make the assertions without further human work. For example through the fact that we have two papers that have identified authors, we can say that the two authors are co-authors.  Since the data is freely available that can be used in a co-authorship system. Or if we know that one paper cites another, we can export this into a system that solicits information about why the citation took place.  Linkages and open information go hand in hand in RePEc.

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