Re: STM Publisher Briefing on Institution Repository Deposit Mandates

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 18:36:09 -0500

On Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 3:14 PM, Sandy Thatcher <> wrote:

      The only statement in Stevan's commentary that I find
      and questionable--because it is stated with such
      certainty of its
      truth, with no reference to any empirical backing, which
      unusual for Stevan--is the claim that it is "exceedingly
      (Stevan's emphasis) for copyediting "to detect any
      errors" in articles. I have no evidence to disprove this
      that is based on systematic investigation of my own, but
      in all
      the years I spent as a copyeditor myself, it does not
      ring true,
      and was not consistent with my own experience in editing
      scholarly work in the humanities and social sciences.

But Sandy, you were copy-editing books, and I was talking about
journal articles (OA's target content)!

And during those years you were copy-editing at Princeton, I was
editing (a journal) at Princeton. My only evidence is from those 25
years: Lots of substantive errors were caught by the editor (me!),
but that was part of the peer review, the editor being a super-peer.
Negligibly few were ever caught by the copy-editors...

      Are the sciences any different? Not according to one
      editor who
      has worked on thousands of scientific articles, who
      commented on
      a draft of my article on "The Value Added by Copyediting"
      (Against the Grain, September 2008). Among other things,
      testified that "even in highly technical articles 'the
      are usually accompanied by thickets of impenetrable
      prose,' and a
      lot of his work 'involves making sure that the text and
      equations say the same thing.' He also adds that he
      checks 'the
      basic math in tables, since it's amazing how often
      scientists get
      the sums and averages wrong.'"

There's a lot of awfully bad writing in science, alas, and the
copy-editing is usually so light that it doesn't make the writing
much better. But I said *substantive* errors, and the responsibility
for catching those is the referees' (and editor's), not the

      A study by Malcolm Wright and J. Scott Armstrong titled
      Towers of Knowledge" in the March/April 2008 issue of
      also found high rates of errors in citations and
      partly because researchers relied on preprints and never
      to check the accuracy of citations and quotations from
      preprints. I would consider these "substantive errors,"
      they are not simply matters of style or grammar. So, I
      would ask
      Stevan whence his high degree of confidence in this claim
      derives. Nothing in my experience, or that of other
      editors I
      have asked, bears it out.

Sandy and I clearly mean something different by "substantive errors":
I wouldn't consider citation errors substantive (though it's
certainly useful to correct them).  I think citations and even
quotations will be increasingly checked by software, online, as
everything is made OA. But I agree that only the future will decide
how much copy-editing service author/institutions will be prepared to
pay for, if and when journal publishing downsizes to just peer-review
(plus copy-editing) alone.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Jan 20 2009 - 00:39:38 GMT

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