Creating a paper trail to prove an article is on the web

This post is a slight lament at good intentions turned bureaucratic drag. In what we must now call the good old days, the final stages of publishing a scientific paper were free of paperwork. You would just check the proofs of your article, then sit back and wait for it to appear, whereupon your coauthors and you could sit back and bask in a warm glow.

For example, I had a collaboration over a number of years with some muscle biologists at King’s, and the results were published a couple of weeks ago. The paper is online here at the journal’s website. It is also available at a big American repository here. Both are open access, so you or anyone else with an internet connection from Sydney to Alaska, can read it on either website for free.

Open access is a good thing. The research was partly paid for by taxpayers and charities, and so taxpayers and those that contributed to the muscular dystrophy charity should be able to read it. So I totally agree with the British government’s policy of encouraging open access.

But sadly, now we can’t just do open access, we need to create open-access audit trails for a government quango, which I think is a bit of a shame. So I’ll need to create a little paper trail for the paper and upload it so it will available for free on a third website. This won’t take long but it is a little dispiriting to be spending time doing something which will achieve so little.

Some of my astrophysics colleagues are finding this particularly puzzling. In that field pretty much everything is available for free on a server called arXiv, so in effect they are being asked to create a paper trail to prove they are doing what they have been doing routinely for over a decade. Like getting a butchers to prove they make sausages, it is not so much annoyingly time consuming, as it is annoyingly pointless.

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