Schrödinger's Paper

Publishing a paper in academia is a lot like Schrödinger's cat where its both published and unpublished
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
academia blog publications

Recently I had some papers accepted, presented, but unpublished since it hasn't been made available on the publisher's website. But - I have already counted it amongst my published papers as the process of actually publishing it can take several months to a year. This intermediate state, stated colloquially as in-press, reminded me about Schrödinger's cat in which things are superimposed and behave as if they have multiple states until a specific event occurs which collapses them into one specific state.

In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, of quantum superposition. In the thought experiment, a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead, while it is unobserved in a closed box, ... Fundamentally, the Schrödinger's cat experiment asks how long quantum superpositions last and when (or whether) they collapse.

In the case of academia, such a Schrödinger's paper is a paper that is considered published if it is any one of the below states, until you are filling in an administrative form that specifically asks for 'published' papers.

  1. Accepted: the paper has been accepted at a venue, and you need to submit the 'final version'
  2. Camera-Ready: the final version of the paper has been submitted
  3. In-Press: the paper has gone through typsetting and proof-checking by the publisher
  4. Presented: the paper has been presented at the venue (which is a mandatory requirement in several disciplines where the paper is finished prior to presentation)
  5. Early-Access: the publisher has made a version of the paper available before its final/actual publication (e.g. in a specific volume or edition of the journal)
  6. Published: the paper has been (finally and actually) been published and there is nothing more to be done

Realistically and formally, only the last state of actually being published (with all the relevant identifiers and metadata) is considered published - but because we're in the age of the internet and still using the slow postal methods of publications (except with emails), most entities consider anything put out by the publisher as published (e.g. early-access with a DOI). As a result, the actual date of publication remains a mystery, and I keep changing the date and state of papers as it moves across the process.