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Gaming SSRN Downloads:
There has been a lot of debate recently among lawprofs about whether SSRN downloads are a useful gauge of scholarly influence or quality. I'm pretty skeptical about using SSRN that way, and the following e-mail is an interesting illustration of the problem. A young lawyer who just sent out an article for publication to law reviews also sent out the following e-mail to a list of friends asking for their help in getting the article placed:

From: [Redacted]
Date: August 17, 2005 6:05:34 PM EDT
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Buzz!! (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Friends,

I'm trying to create some buzz for a law article I've just posted on the SSRN (Social Science Research Network). Could you please please download the article? The more hits there are, the more likely the piece is to get picked up by a good journal. Of course I'd love it if you also read the article - but that's up to you.

Three easy steps:

click on this link: http://ssrn.com/abstract=[Redacted]
click "Go to Document Delivery"
click "SSRN"

You should do this because (1) it would mean a lot to me, and (2) there are free door prizes for the first 50 people who click that link.

XO,
[Redacted]
  The idea, I suppose, is that law review editors might check SSRN to see how many downloads the paper has. If a paper has lots of downloads, editors will assume it is getting lots of attention and perhaps is more worth publishing. I would hope editors can see through this, but you never know. Anyway, caveat editor.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Gaming SSRN Downloads:
  2. SSRN as a Measure of Scholarly Performance:
centrist (mail) (www):
On a slightly different topic, I know that many journal editors use SSRN as a way to actually solicit working papers as potential articles. Having only published a comment, I posted another working paper on the site, and have received a solicitation to submit it with revisions. All this, and I just graduated three months ago.

SSRN is a very powerful tool. It has been very useful for getting my viewpoints across. It would be a shame to see it abused in the manner you describe.
8.19.2005 7:30pm
Daniel Davies (mail):
Why redact the name? This is the sort of behaviour that ought to be named and shamed.
8.19.2005 7:53pm
Kate Litvak (mail):
I agree with Daniel Davies. Expose the name of that sleazeball to the public! He essentially asked you to help him defraud the academic community -- to misrepresent readers' interest to his papers, to overstate the value and importance of his work. This is only one step removed from writing a script that would download his papers automatically.

And please don't tell me that the lunacy of the law review system or the loopholes in the SSRN download counts somehow justify this behavior. People who play small dirty tricks in one place are almost guaranteed to be indecent elsewhere. If you and I start making names of such scumbags public, the amount of filth in the academy will decline. Let the next schemer think twice before asking the rest of us back him up in his endeavors. Let him feel the outcast he is. SSRN can catch a lot of garbage of that sort, but it is essentially the job of the academic community to keep its ranks clean. Give us the name! Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
8.19.2005 10:01pm
Steve:
Perhaps Prof. Kerr was not an intended recipient of the email in question, or perhaps he feels it would be unhelpful to stigmatize one out of a great many people who all game a very gameable system.
8.19.2005 10:17pm
OrinKerr:
Two things.

First, I was not on the recipient list. A professor who was on the list posted it to an Internet law professors' listserv.

Second, I am going to delete the comment of "anon ct reader." C'mon, folks, surely we can leave comments without using repeated profanity or labeling comments we disagree with as "stupid."
8.19.2005 10:55pm
JohnO (mail):
Have the practices for submitting articles to law reviews changed with the advent of SSRN? I graduated from law school in 1995 and have published 6 law review articles while in private practice, though none in the last year or so. I always submitted my manuscripts the way it was done while I was in law school, sending a hard copy to the law review with a cover letter (or, on occasion, emailing it when the law review's website says that this is acceptable). Is my old way of doing it obsolete now?
8.20.2005 10:56am
articles editor:
JohnO,

Your way of doing it is not obsolete. Most reviews still select the large majority of their articles from the normal submission process. At my journal, we've made one offer on a piece I found on SSRN that hadn't made its way into our office yet, but the other 11 we've placed so far are from the normal submission process.

In general, the submission process is probably not that much different than it was when you were in school. However, I would note two things:

First, a lot of journals have added an electronic submission process relatively recently. At our journal, we'd prefer to receive the submission online where possible. It saves us from having to open the mail and manually enter the hard copy and it lets the editors read the papers from wherever they want without tracking down the hard copy. In the summer it will also get you an answer on your article faster because I can assign the article to an editor the instant it comes in, rather than on the day I go into the office to check the mail. It also saves you a buck. (NB: "emailing it" is not the same as using our online form - an articles editor will still need to enter the data manually if you e-mail it).

Second, my impression is that the timeframe for submission has become even more concentrated than it once was. A huge percentage of our articles come in during two short periods. One is during March and April, the other during August and September. Law reviews expect the rush and plan their editing process accordingly. Authors should as well. Most of the submissions that come in off peak are from first-time submitters or practitioners. Law reviews are slow to get back to authors during this period, so if you get an offer, you have less of a chance of "trading up" during the expedite process. That is, you would much rather have a week to think about an offer during early April than you would during late July, because its much more likely another journal will come along and make an offer in the former case.

Also, note that while I don't think SSRN has changed the process much (yet), there's no downside to posting them online. Even if law review editors don't read it, scholars might, which seems like the point of publishing in the first place. . .
8.20.2005 11:46am
Chris24601 (mail):
I noticed last spring that at least one law review didn't want to publish things that were already available online. Partly out of a concern that others might think similarly, I didn't want to put something on SSRN that hadn't been accepted for publication yet. Is my worry foolish?
8.20.2005 1:24pm
articles editor:
Chris24601,

It certainly wouldn't hurt you at my journal, but I can't say for sure your concern is foolish. I haven't heard of any journals that have a blanket rule about not publishing articles already online, but I know of a few that don't give permission to authors to post their piece on SSRN, or ask their authors to pull the article once it is accepted, so it's certainly possible that some don't like to see the work already distributed. It's a position that I don't understand. In my opinion, anything that is good for one of our authors is good for us. I'm not sure why journals would compete to attract high profile authors only to discourage them from publicizing their work.
8.21.2005 2:31am