Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Arthur P. Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 23:52:11 -0500

On Sat, 15 Dec 2001, Bernard Lang wrote:
> [...]
> I have absolutely no experience with copy editing but ...
> How much of the process could actually be mechanized ? Part of it at
> least is checking specific presentation rules, I believe.

A good question. The answer though is only a little,
that I am aware of. One can attempt to use "grammar
checkers" and "spelling checkers" but they're of dubious value with
abstruse technical information (most grammar checkers don't like the
standard scientific passive voice for example...). You can look
for yourself at our style guide:

and see how much of that looks mechanical. Some is, most is not;
the part that is not mostly requires some sort of human judgment.
For example, "within the explanatory material of a caption include
definitions of all symbols, abbreviations, and acronyms used in the
figure that have not been previously defined in the text..." - how
much of that can be checked mechanically?

So there is an irreducible human judgment component in this, I believe
much more than 50% of the work needing to be done, that
cannot be automated with any current technology.

> Another point is that copy editing can be paid for separately, by
> authors (or institutions who can afford it) or by people who think
> some pieces of works do deserve it.

Note my discussion of this in response to Andrew Odlyzko. I don't
think that's the right way to go, but if people are doing it anyway
it's worth analyzing how well it is working for the furthering
of scholarly research in these areas.

> We can publish first, and review or copy edit later, in whatever
> order is convenient, or never if no one wishes to do it. I do not
> care if, when, and how reviewing has been done ... all I need to know
> is whether it has been done, and by whom or what group, and maybe even
> have the comments.
> With that I am a big enough boy to make my own decisions. Choosing
> a journal is just choosing a set of reviewers.

Is it? I think it means much more than that. Or at least it
has historically meant also choosing a certain style and quality of
presentation, and a certain assessment of worth in the
articles - a yes/no up/down judgment made by two or more people
with real scientific experience, making a decision with
real meaning and consequences. Just getting "reviews" from
a particular bunch of reviewers is quite a different thing.

Of course reform of peer review is a very interesting subject
in its own right. Does it need to be considered along with
new business models for scientific publication? I would say
yes, but it's an area one has to tread carefully...

> [...]
> And why should papers have only one type of reviewing, when they
> are so many different publics with different needs, even within the
> not for profit litterature.

so you want to spend more money on peer review, not less? :-)

Received on Wed Dec 19 2001 - 10:41:42 GMT

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