I’m sure we’re all familiar with unpublished papers that being something like ‘draft only – please don’t quote or cite without permission’. I’ve started papers that way myself. But then I started to think that maybe this isn’t okay. So: here’s the case against – I’d like to know what people think of this.
Suppose you’ve given a novel argument for p. Suppose this good argument inspires me to give a new argument for q. My argument for q builds upon your argument for p – the argument won’t work without citing the results of your argument. If your paper begins with ‘don’t quote or cite without permission’ then you are now effectively holding me hostage. I can’t publish my new argument without plagiarising your argument. Given that I’m not going to do that, I have no choice but to hold off doing anything with my new idea until you publish your paper. (I’m assuming your permission is withheld – which must be a serious option, otherwise why write the command in the first place?) Your argument might have completely altered my way of approaching a topic – so now all my new work has to remain on hold. What happens if you change your mind about your argument and decide it shouldn’t be published? I still can’t take credit for having that idea myself, so unless you give me permission am I never to publish the ideas your original idea sparked in me?
Imagine if Kaplan had started ‘Demonstratives’ that way, or if Kripke had placed that restriction on his Locke lectures. All the great literature that those papers spawned whilst circulating unpublished would have had to remain unpublished.
I’m tempted to think that if you put a paper up on the web, that’s to put it in the public domain, and it’s no more appropriate to place a citation restriction on such a paper than it is on a paper published in a print journal. I’m even tempted to think that conference presentations can be freely cited; i.e.that I shouldn’t have to seek Xs permission to refer in one of my papers to the presentation X gave. Papers circulated by e-mail to a small group of people seem to be a slightly different case – but even then the above argument bothers me.
On the other hand, I think it would be a real shame if the tendency to circulate draft papers or put them on-line was diminished by people being worried their ideas would be cited before they’re fully developed.
So, basically, I don’t know what to think. What do other people think?
UPDATE: Brian has a discussion of this over at tar.
UPDATE 2: Brian initiated a discussion of this at crooked timber, too: lots of interesting discussion.