Do Not “Do Not Cite or Circulate”


Lee Anne Fennell, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, has written a short and amusing paper entitled “Do Not Cite or Circulate.”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The last section of the paper offers some alternatives to the practice of labeling drafts with “Do Not Cite or Circulate,” along with some ways to make change happen, including having bloggers create “a trend of mild, good-natured mocking of inappropriately-used DNCC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?

(via MR)

 

guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

To quote my own website,

Any paper on this website may be quoted or cited without asking my permission, whether or not it has been officially published yet. (If someone doesn’t want their work to be publicly discussed, they shouldn’t post it on the Internet.)

(I do sometimes put DNCC on preprints I email to particular colleagues, or when I send someone a preprint on request after a talk.)Report

Sven Henrikkson
Sven Henrikkson
6 years ago

Ditching DNCC or keeping DNCC is a false choice. Obviously, as the quoted article points out, it’s near incoherent to ask someone not to circulate something you just posted on the internet for anyone to see. However, it can make perfect sense to include a variant of DNCC which is (something like) ‘cite only with permission’ or ‘please do not cite–draft version’. After all, a very normal reason to put work online is to get critical feedback. It can be useful to get critical feedback on drafts that don’t yet constitute your well worked out view. So: if someone wants critical feedback on stuff that they’re not yet ready to have cited, a ‘please do not cite’ request is entirely reasonable. One might reply that you shouldn’t post stuff on the internet if you don’t want people to cite it. But why not? Why not post stuff on the internet for people to read and give feedback on, which you simply ask them not to cite? Obviously there’s a risk: if you post stuff on the internet people *could* cite it even if you don’t want them to. However, it can often be reasonable to take such a risk in the service of seeking feedback. Thus, while DNCC is strictly bizarre to put on something posted online, there’s plenty of good reason to say ‘please don’t cite’ or ‘please cite only with permission’.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

I post three types of things online. In descending order of care of preparation, and with different goals: 1) final typescripts of published papers; 2) draft papers; 3) class notes.

Category 1: this is a little bit of Fight the Power w/r/t publishers. I’m happy with people citing final typescripts in published papers (even though I ask people to cite the published version, I’m not going to do a publisher’s enforcement work for them).

Category 2: this is for development of my thought: I prefer people email me with feedback on draft papers, but I’m not going to hunt folks down who cite those drafts, and if I’m subject to a scathing critique of one of them (has never happened, but hey, a fella can dream, can’t he?) I hope I would react with the following: “I don’t care why my name is bandied about as long as it’s spelled correctly” aka, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Category 3: This I see as a professional service, aimed at helping students and other profs, as a payback for all the times I use their lecture notes in my own course prep. I get lots of students at other schools asking me if I can cite the class notes in their term papers, even though I give permission for that up front. I do live in fear of someone saying “what a clown Brotevi is, can you believe his notes on X?” but so far that hasn’t happened either.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

“One might reply that you shouldn’t post stuff on the internet if you don’t want people to cite it. But why not? Why not post stuff on the internet for people to read and give feedback on, which you simply ask them not to cite?”

Consider what the point is of citing someone’s work. Normally it is (or should be) to acknowledge authorship: I cite X because what I am discussing makes some use of X, or says or discusses something first said by X. So now suppose I’m writing a paper, and I’m indeed discussing something which has some scholarly dependence on something in a “do-not-cite” paper. What should I do? I can’t just write the paper but not cite X: that’s poor scholarship at best, plagiarism at worst. So effectively, “do not cite X” becomes “do not develop scholarship based on X”. That can be awkward.Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
6 years ago

– I agree completely. Indeed, more than just “awkward”, I think it’s really illegitimate: we don’t own the ideas we write down, and so we have no moral right to prevent others from building upon them.Report

P.D.
6 years ago

I generally agree.

However — I sometimes put early drafts on-line with a notice that people are welcome to cite it, but with a further request that people not quote it verbatim. This allows readers to credit me if they get an idea from me and want to be intellectually honest. It allows them to paraphrase what they take me to be saying. But it avoids hanging me on a precise formulation which will probably change in the next draft.Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
6 years ago

You’re absolutely right that we have no right to claim ownership of ideas, but we do, I think, have a right not to have people attribute to us ideas that we don’t ultimately hold, even if we might have floated them aloft publically at one time. I think Sven’s suggestion of “please cite only with permission” goes a long way toward solving that problem. I also think a little bit of professional courtesy, in making a request rather than a demand, serves us well.Report

Enzo Rossi
6 years ago

I don’t do DNCC for reasons similar to those outlined by Fenell. But I do use “Cite, but don’t quote” sometimes. I take that to mean that I’m happy for the paper’s general ideas to be attributed to me, but I don’t want to be committed to every line of a piece I’ve not yet committed to print.Report

Nick Byrd
6 years ago

I wonder if one could/should denote drafts in the references by using “draft,” “unpublished,” or “manuscript”, e.g.,:

Last, First (draft). Title of the paper.
Last, First (unpublished). Title of the paper.
Last, First (manuscript). Title of the paper.

This quells some of the concerns in this comment thread:
(a) It lets readers know that the paper being cited might not have been in it’s final form [and so does not misrepresent the degree to which someone is committed to the idea being cited] — this seems to quell PD and Will Behun’s worry.
(b) It allows others to build on one’s ideas [as opposed to preventing people from working on anything that is not yet published] — this seems to address David Wallace and Richard Yetter Chappell’s point.

Curiously, some have told me that one should not do this — that it is a common “undergraduate mistake.” Instead, I have been told to use “forthcoming.” However, I regularly see people cite papers as “unpublished” and “manuscript” (e.g., Rozemond apparently found an unpublished paper by Kaufman to be helpful, so she cited it in a 2011 paper; Kaufman’s paper ended up being published in 2014), so clearly not everyone agrees that such citations are unacceptable.

And if this is acceptable, then which term (i.e., “draft” or “published” or “manuscript”) is most acceptable?Report

Sven Henrikkson
Sven Henrikkson
6 years ago

David, you write: “So now suppose I’m writing a paper, and I’m indeed discussing something which has some scholarly dependence on something in a “do-not-cite” paper. What should I do? I can’t just write the paper but not cite X: that’s poor scholarship at best, plagiarism at worst. So effectively, “do not cite X” becomes “do not develop scholarship based on X”. That can be awkward.”

“Do not develop scholarship based on X” is in fact exactly what I mean when I post a paper draft and write ‘do not cite’. I also think that this is obvious! If you see a paper that says ‘do not cite’ and you read it, you shouldn’t develop scholarship on that paper, obviously. The most straightforward reason for putting something online with a do not cite disclaimer is that you are seeking feedback. Typically, papers I post online with a ‘do not cite’ disclaimer are posted on a website with a ‘feedback welcome’ request. I have read many papers that say ‘do not cite’ and what I do is simple: I don’t develop scholarship on them out of respect for their request.

Now, Richard Yetter Chappel has echoed your thought that it’s awkward to, in asking people not to cite a draft in progress, effectively ask them to not develop scholarship on it. But Richard Yetter Chappel thinks it is even more than just awkward, but ‘illegitimate’. !? The reasoning is: ‘we don’t own the ideas we write down, and so we have no moral right to prevent others from building upon them.’ No, we don’t own the ideas we write down. But it is entirely reasonable to *request* that others not build upon them. And this is very different from having a moral right to *prevent* them from doing so–which is the strawman being challenged by Richard Yetter Chappell. (For example: obviously, I don’t have a moral right to break in to your house and maim your typing fingers to prevent you from building scholarship off my ‘do not cite’ paper). But requesting ‘do not cite’ is not preventing anything. And the issue is whether it is appropriate to request people not cite your work. Nothing said by David nor R. Yetter Chappel has suggested that it is not entirely reasonable to post stuff online and request that the papers not be cited.Report

Filippo Contesi
Filippo Contesi
6 years ago

I agree with Nick Byrd above. I personally tend to use ‘manuscript’.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

I think (but I’m sure others will disagree) that it’s always courteous to check with an author before citing unpublished work. My own version of the DNCC note reads ‘Please feel free to cite and/or circulate. However, if you wish to cite this paper in print please contact me at (email address) in case a more recent or more widely available version is in existence.’

I think you can only call an unpublished piece ‘forthcoming’ if it’s been accepted for publication. Otherwise it’s ‘unpublished ms’.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

Perhaps it’s reasonable to take a request not to cite to come with an expiration notice. If I post a draft online in order to solicit feedback, maybe I’m entitled to expect others to hold off building scholarship on it for… a year? Two? I don’t know what the precise figure should be. At some point, though, if I haven’t gotten the material in print or at least in a final form then I can’t expect everyone else to hold off discussing it indefinitely. (Although maybe I can expect them to hold off criticizing me for holding a view to which I have not really committed myself?) We might think of this in terms of ideas reverting to the state of nature if they’ve been abandoned.Report

P.D.
6 years ago

Bill writes, “I think (but I’m sure others will disagree) that it’s always courteous to check with an author before citing unpublished work.”

I’m fine with it as a dictum of courtesy, but not as a poorly formed license agreement with requires to contact you if they intend to cite your draft.

There are possible cases where someone does try to contact me but fails. Maybe the e-mail was trapped as spam. Maybe I’m busy with other things. Mortality assures that I’ll ultimately stop answering e-mail. I want other philosophers to be able to build on my ideas and acknowledge me, so I should allow them to cite me without having to hear back from me.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

I don’t know why you’ve interpreted what i said as a ‘poorly-formulated license agreement’. It’s a request, with a rationale; and that this is the case is signalled to the observant reader by the use of the word ‘please’, which tends to be absent from documents claiming a stronger legal basis.Report

Horace Manner
Horace Manner
6 years ago

I agree with Bill that there is no good reason for P.D. to have interpreted what Bill said as a ‘poorly-formulated license agreement.’ It was just a run-of-the mill request, with the word ‘please.’ Does P.D. have a theory of license agreements on which all requests are poorly formulated license agreements? If so, then on this theory, is every single thing a license agreement, and most things (chairs, numbers, requests etc) are just poorly formed ones?Report