Maximising research access vs. minimizing copy-editing errors

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2006 19:27:04 EDT

On Wed, 5 Jul 2006, Anthony Watkinson wrote:

> I suppose Professor Harnad thinks that if he constantly
> promulgates the idea (see below) that the only difference
> between the accepted paper and the final published version is a
> matter of formatting he will get those not involved in
> publishing to accept this as a "fact". In fact there is
> something called "copyediting". There are some publishers who
> do very little copy-editing or even none at all. However many
> publishers, especially those who have important journals, do a
> lot of copy-editing which is not just a matter of house style
> but can pick up serious errors. The difference between the
> versions can be significant and this difference is (I
> understand) being recognised by the current NISO groups working
> on version. Journal editors of course know this very well too.

The trouble is that Anthony Watkinson and I are addressing two
completely different problems, hence two completely different
user populations.

Mr. Watkinson is thinking of the user who has a subscription to
the journal, with its copy-edited, proofed PDF, and is weighing
the use of this against the use of the author's final, accepted
draft -- revised and accepted, but not copy-edited. He is quite
right that the copy-edited version is to be preferred: I too
would prefer it, if I had access to it.

But the problem I -- and the OA movement -- are addressing is not
that one at all. We are concerned with the population of would-be
users who cannot, today, access the journal version, because it
is not in one of the journals they or their institutions can
afford to subscribe to. And the choice *they* are facing is
access to the author's final, refereed, accepted (but not
copy-edited) draft, versus no access at all. I very much doubt
that all those would-be users would be very appreciative of Mr.
Watkinson's concern to protect them from access to the author's
final draft on the grounds of potential errors that might arise
from the lack of copy-editing.

I think Mr. Watkinson may have both the immediate needs of
researchers and the immediate motivation for Open Access rather
out of focus and proportion if he imagines that his very
legitimate scholarly concern to minimize all errors that a
copy-editor might catch carries any weight at all in the context
of the overarching research concern that would-be users should
not continue to be denied access to the final, refereed drafts of
research findings.

And if Mr. Watkinson is curious about the size and scope of this
would-be user population, and of the research access problem that
the OA movement is addressing (compared to the copy-editing
error-risk problem that he is addressing), a good estimate is
provided by the 25%-250% higher citation impact of research for
which the author supplements access to the journal version by
self-archiving his final draft in his institutional repository.
That's quite a dramatic difference, but I expect it will prove to
be even bigger, once we have not only citation data, but also
usage (download) data comparing self-archived and
non-self-archived articles (in the same journal and year).

If anyone has any comparative data on the research impact of
undetected copy-editing errors, I would be very happy to see

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Fri Jul 07 2006 - 02:42:39 BST

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