I just received a note from a recent graduate who is about to begin his first job. Naturally he has spent the summer writing and submitting. Anyway, he is now working on a paper that deals with a very specific debate in his main area of research. As it turns out, the state of the art in this debate turns crucially on... get this.... an unpublished paper by one of the Great Old Men (GOMs) in the area. According to the student, this paper is cited with exceptional frequency, especially among those who are also GOMs (or on their way to being such).
Several attempts to get a copy of the paper from a GOM who has cited the paper (btw: the GOM who wrote the paper is retired and GOMy enough to not use email... or apparently even a telephone) have failed: the claim is that, since the paper is unpublished, it cannot be circulated without explicit permission from the (unreachable) author.
This is bloody ridiculous. In fact it strikes me as a breach of a central academic norm: Anything that's cited in a substantive way (viz., not simply mentioned, but used) must be made public so that it (both the way it is used and the source itself) can be critically examined, challenged, and responded to, etc. In this particular case, the withholding of the GOM's paper has the effect of restricting access to the current debate on this issue.
Assuming that the principle of publicity for any substantively cited work is non-controversial, and given that the student is new to the profession, does anyone have any advice about what to do? For example: should the student alert the editors of the journals that have published papers with substantive citations to the unpublished paper? Would a note to the (alas, incompetent and impotent) APA achieve anything? Any views?