Sunday, July 29, 2012

Archiving: Not just for Librarians anymore

Scenario 1: You’re 12 years old, and you’ve just discovered a juicy new piece of gossip. You want to be the first to share it with your friends. Unfortunately, you’re stuck in the 1960s so all you can do is try to be the first one at school. Alas, a classmate has beaten you to it!

Flash forward to now. Instead of running to school, you can post the news on Twitter or Facebook. It’s even time-stamped so nobody can dispute that you were the first to know the news.

Scenario 2: You’re a poor struggling graduate student doing research. You have an amazing new discovery that would allow you to graduate once published. You rush to submit your article to a journal.

Disaster strikes! You’ve been scooped! (Someone has published the same result before you.) Three years of your life wasted. If only you could have published your research first. (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=794)

Solution: The arXiv (http://arxiv.org/)

Pronunciation: arXiv is pronounced like the word “archive” (The X is like the Greek letter “chi”).

On the arXiv, anyone can post a research article. Even drafts can be posted to ensure that nobody scoops you.

The arXiv exists for the following fields: Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance, and Statistics.

An article on the arXiv can be cited just like a journal article. In addition to setting precedent, posting on the arXiv allows you to get feedback on your work before you publish it.

History: this project was first hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory (http://www.lanl.gov/) in 1991 and is now hosted by Cornell University.

The arXiv was at the forefront of open access publishing. Nowadays, some papers are only printed on the arXiv and never even submitted to journals.

So the next time you see a group of physicists sitting in a group, checking their iphones and ipads, and not speaking, realize that they’re probably all nerding out over the latest articles on the arXiv.

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