Engineering Preprints?

Draft of 2005.11.05 ☛ 2015.06.15

Physicists and computer scientists (some of whom, yes, are engineers as well) have an exquisitely refined techno-cultural system for sharing preprints and preserving them at the LANL ePrint arXiv. Economists of many stripes have an extensive and broadly categorized working papers alert service, as well. Biologists and biomedical scientists have of late been catching up.

To date, I don’t believe most engineers do. By “most” I suppose I mean “many”, since of course there are computer science preprints at LANL, and there’s that whole CiteSeer thing. But those are (you have to admit) the kind of engineers who type stuff, not the kind who get oily, or have safety equipment. The other engineers.

This is not to imply that physicists and economists end up publishing their work in more peer-reviewed journals. I wander through dozens of engineering-specific stacks in our library, and there are maybe 1000 domain-specific engineering journals on the library’s subscription list: Transactions of Some Chinese Metallurgists, Recent Dialogs of the Polish Association of Aeronautics Engineers, Journal of ATM Network Administrators, things like that.

I may be wrong—I’ve not been paying as much attention as perhaps I should—but it seems there is no centralized clearing-house and distribution network for preprints among the engineers. No SIAM, no INFORMS, no ASME, no ACE, no AICHE preprints route with public access.

Is this due to some cultural quirk among engineers? Are they (we) less communicative, or more complacent? Alternately, is it because we’re always waving our preprints around already, through back channels, and therefore there’s no pressing need to have a separate explicit means of archiving and announcing them? Is it that engineering is “too diverse” (unlike physics? unlike economics?) to fit all eggs into one basket? Is it that engineers have a faster, smoother ride than authors in other disciplines when submitting their manuscripts and getting them out in public faster? Is it because we sometimes (maybe often) live in the private sector, not merely in academia, and therefore have different (sometimes financial, sometimes intellectual property) stakes in our results? Is it because engineers find it more difficult to write works of broad appeal and general utility, since they are so often doing things that are domain-specific and fraught with empiricism? Is it because we’re shy?