Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can Someone Explain to Me What's Up with astro-ph?

I suppose the vast majority (4 out of the 5 of you) of people who read this blog are astrophysicists (the other person will just have to wait). So maybe one of you can explain to me what's the deal with astro-ph these days? Hm, that's just asking for a bunch of punchlines, isn't it? But I have a specific problem in mind.

The average astro-ph entry looks like this:

Title: Halo X-ray Something Cosmology
Authors: X. PhD ((1) Please Donate to Me U.)
Comments: 20 pages, 10 figures, submitted to some journal
Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

Last week, I noticed something new. Between "Comments" and "Subjects," some entries have a new field that often reads (this appears only in the listing and not the abstract page):

License: http://arxiv.org/licenses/nonexclusive-distrib/1.0/
That URL states
  • I grant arXiv.org a perpetual, non-exclusive license to distribute this article.
  • I certify that I have the right to grant this license.
  • I understand that submissions cannot be completely removed once accepted.
  • I understand that arXiv.org reserves the right to reclassify or reject any submission.
  • This seems to be pretty typical stuff but what's the point? Isn't this the terms under which all astro-ph submissions are accepted (that is, isn't adding this field redundant)?

    So it didn't seem so important and I tried to put it out of my mind. Today, though, I saw something truly mind-boggling. The very first entry (arXiv:0802.1210, although once again, you can only see this on the listing page not the abstract page) has this "Comments" and "License" field:
    Comments: 21 pages, 5 figures, submitted to ApJ
    License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/publicdomain/
    Now wait a second. It's true that everything I know about licenses and copyrights and such comes from skimming Slashdot, but something's not making sense. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (which that URL redirects to) says that the author has the copyright to this work and dedicates it to the public domain where "the Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived." I think this means that anyone can take any part of this paper and reuse for any reason without express permission of the author. That would be well within the authors' rights and, I think, acceptable to it being listed on astro-ph.

    But this paper is also submitted to ApJ, where presumably, they intend to publish the paper. And before they can publish, they have to sign the publication agreement (that link opens a pdf), which states "you grant and assign the entire copyright for this paper exclusively to the Society" and, later, "the Society, in turn, grants to you the non-exclusive right of republication, subject only to your giving appropriate credit to the Journal." Reading this, I think that if you are writing a book, some company (not self-publishing) has agreed to publish it, and you want to include a plot from this paper, you would need to have the express permission of ApJ. How is this not in disagreement with the Creative Commons license?

    So this is probably the most obscure, geeky, and pedantic blog post I've ever written, but I'm hoping I'm not the absolute only person who finds this interesting/puzzling.


    Tim said...

    heh. i confess, I have stopped reading astro-ph, but yeah, I suspect the author of that paper may have a rude awakening once the paper is accepted at ApJ.

    I always kinda wondered why there wasn't more conflict between ApJ and astro-ph about these things. Publication profit margins and open-source publishing are a really big deal in a lot of other fields (bio-medical), but ApJ basically tolerates astro-ph reposting most of their papers for free.

    Douglas said...

    Yeah, I've been noticing those lines as well, but haven't given it much thought.

    I think the fact that neither of us have seen it from the submission side demonstrates that both Jackie and I need to publish more :(

    Eugene said...

    That's interesting. I just submitted a paper a few weeks ago, and didn't see that line. In fact I just replaced my paper 2 days ago and I don't remember seeing it. Doesn't mean it's not there though...

    Eugene said...

    Hmm, I checked the What's New section of arxiv.org and see nothing about the Licenses.

    On the other hand, I saw this

    Jackie said...

    Tim - That's a good point about the ApJ/astro-ph conflict, but I suppose that most astrophysicists are now so set in our ways, that even if ApJ wanted to ...

    Doug - Probably true. Sigh.

    Eugene - Wow, that link is really interesting (I can't believe that arXiv administrators are actually checking!).

    Eugene said...

    Jackie : yeah I was surprised myself. But from reading the linked article though, I think the discovery was made by the home institutions of the culprits and subsequently arxiv was informed so I doubt they really check.