17 February 2009

Republish or reperish

Artists, especially painters and composers, often revise their own public creations. Beethoven, for example, is known to have revised many of his compositions over and over again.

Sometimes I wish scientists had developed a tradition of republishing revised versions of their papers. Certainly, such a tradition exists for books, especially for textbooks in which case it is done mostly for commercial reasons. But the practice is definitely not limited to textbooks. For example, there were several revised editions of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

If it were acceptable to publish new, improved version of old papers, one could correct any mistakes in the original, add new data, modify the interpretations. A revised republication would be quite useful in those cases when an author had collected a small amount of new data in a research project that he/she had already written about and if the quantity of the data wouldn’t otherwise justify the writing of an entirely new paper. A revision would also be warranted when the authors’ interpretations of their data had changed significantly since the original publication. Republished manuscripts would retain the original title but would be marked clearly to indicate that they were revised versions of previously published papers. That way tenure-seekers wouldn't be able to inflate their resumes by repeatedly republishing the same old stuff with only minor changes.

Perhaps with the further development and acceptance of on-line publishing, the practice of republishing revised papers will gradually arise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, that really sounds like a great idea. I could certainly have used that capability a couple of times in the past. I guess indicating where exactly every little update in the paper had been carried out would be necessary too, so someone looking at it could attribute a date to any new realizations added by the author. (Of course we already have that capability on Wikipedia, which keeps a complete record of every change made.) Best wishes to you Aydin,

Susan J. Hewitt