Lee Anne Fennell, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, has written a short and amusing paper entitled “Do Not Cite or Circulate.” It’s directed at legal academics, but applies just as well to philosophers. From the opening paragraph:
Law professors, who are generally quite enamored of their own words and not especially reluctant to toss around their own half-baked ideas, commonly attach some variant of this essay’s title (hereinafter “DNCC”) to early versions of their work products before sending them out into the world. Indeed, I have done it myself. But I have never seen the point of the practice, and the disadvantages are plain enough. Perhaps most puzzling is the prevalence of the DNCC label on papers publicly available on the internet. Surely this is a bit like closing the barn door after the horses are out. The paper can already be read by every man, woman, and child on the planet who has access to an internet connection. Where else could it possibly be circulated to? After considering possible rationales for the DNCC practice, I have concluded that we would all be better off if legal scholars would cut back significantly on the use of DNCC labels. This essay is devoted to convincing you of that proposition.
Fennell considers various rationales for the practice, from “the absent-minded friend” to “the misdirected email” to the popular “reputational hedge,” to the unlikely “untimely death” and more, and finds them all wanting. She then argues that there are costs to the practice that we fail to notice.
If everyone puts a DNCC note on every draft, the costs of producing a new draft will rise accordingly, if permission must be sought for each use…. The DNCC provides scholars very little protective cover, while introducing an impediment between ideas and those who would use them. Most of us need all the publicity we can get for our work, and the DNCC works at cross-purposes with that goal.
The last section of the paper offers some alternatives to the practice of labeling drafts with “Do Not Cite or Circulate,” along with some ways to make change happen, including having bloggers create “a trend of mild, good-natured mocking of inappropriately-used DNCC labels.” Hmmm.
What say you, readers? Should we ditch DNCC?