The Perils and Profits of Open Access

If you’re within smelling distance of someone who’s involved in academic publishing, you’ve probably caught a whiff of the alarm that open-access publishing is causing.  The movement in favor of open access is founded on the ideal of the free flow of information (particularly information resulting from federally funded research).  Much of the debate has focused on publishing in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which has been dominated by large, for-profit publishers charging steep fees.  Nonprofit publishers are caught in the middle: the open-access model has left many scratching their heads over how to monetize their products, especially since journal subscriptions are often a press’s most lucrative and reliable asset, sometimes funding the riskier world of book publishing.

The issue is big, however, and getting bigger, and even nonprofit publishing organizations are in the process of coming to grips with it.  In the March 2014 issue of its newsletter Footnotes, the American Sociological Association announced that it would launch its first open-access journal in the summer of 2014.  Like the ASA’s more established journals, including the disciplinary giant American Sociological Review, the yet-unnamed journal will be published by SAGE.  The article cites the many advantages of this new enterprise: the journal will publish research in “any area of sociology. . . . It will allow authors to receive a publishing decision quickly, have article lengths unconstrained by printed page limits, as well as have accepted articles published online immediately after editorial review and acceptance.  Authors will retain their copyright.”

These are all worthy goals, of course.  But the complications of this model of publishing become clear as the article rolls on.  Authors will asked to revise and resubmit only rarely, meaning that the refinement of the peer-review process may be endangered.  The manuscripts will be subjected to “only light editing,” creating a potentially low standard for good copy.  And most worrisome, the articles will have a $400 publication fee—and that’s just for ASA members. Nonmembers will be charged even more.  We are assured that this is “well below the current open access standard in today’s scholarly publishing marketplace.”  For context, the American Sociological Review charges all authors, members or no, a $25 submission fee.  That certainly answers the question of how to monetize open access; however, the ASA also promises that “anyone who has been accepted and requests a waiver will be granted one,” suggesting some ambivalence about the charge.  (No author, “ASA to Launch Open Access Scholarly Journal,” ASA Footnotes 42 [March 2014], 11.)

That’s how one reputable organization is approaching the changes in the industry.  But the speed and ease of open-access publishing, along with these substantial publication fees, has opened up fertile ground for flimflammers in the “publish or perish” world of academia.  My friend Colin Reynolds, a graduate student at Emory University, recently presented a paper at the American Society of Church History/Ecclesiastical History Society’s joint spring meeting.  The paper was listed on the conference website, and Colin soon received what he found to be an “enticing” e-mail.  “This is [journal name and ISSN redacted], an international, professional and peer reviewed journal published across the United States by [redacted] Publishing Company.”  The message went on to solicit all of Colin’s “original and unpublished papers.”  According to Colin, “This seemed a little too good to be true, especially since nobody besides my panel chair had read the conference paper.”

He dug into things a bit and discovered an online community of people who were also suspicious of the company.  “The biggest offense alleged here,” Colin comments, “is that [redacted] charges $50 per page to publish articles. . . . [the publisher] seems to be a wise entrepreneurial company that is taking advantage of the fact that young researchers don’t expect to get paid for writing and might be willing to pay large sums of money to (hopefully) start their careers.”

“Wise” and “entrepreneurial” are generous adjectives to use for this and other, similar companies that are little more than criminal enterprises.  Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at University of Colorado Denver, has a blog devoted to identifying what he has termed “open-access predatory publishers.”  He reports a surprising range of  misbehaviors, ranging from simple “poor quality” to faking impact factors to the spreading of misinformation.  Perhaps most colorful of all is the “hijacking” of genuine journals’ sites in an effort to steal their submission or publication fees.  But Beall’s most sustained effort is a list of publishers to avoid, literally titled “Beall’s List.”  While he does seem to be on something of a one-man crusade, he’s upright enough to publish the criteria he uses to deem these publishers “predatory” and to institute an appeals process.

When the Wild West of the internet meets the staid world of academia, flimflam ensues.  Beware, authors!  If you’re going with open access, know the dangers (from bad copyediting to stolen submission fees).  On the bumpy road to a restructured field of publishing, it looks like scholars are braving the crosswalk along with everybody else.





Quality Costs: Gibberish, STEM Journals, and the Bottom Line

A 2009 study conducted by the National Humanities Alliance examined the flagship journals of eight scholarly organizations to weigh the cost of publishing humanities and social science research against the costs of publishing science, technology, engineering, and medical (STEM) research.  Mary Waltham, the consultant who authored the study, found that humanities and social science journals average $526 per page, a figure that doubles STEM journals’ average of $266.

When this study debuted five years ago, the muttering among my colleagues in “expensive” fields was that it only went to show that we do a far better job than the hastily cobbled-together, cheap productions sometimes issued by STEM fields.  Since then, we’ve been awaiting proof of our bias, and last month, we may have found it.  The journal Nature reported that the STEM-heavy publishers Springer and Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) had recently been forced to remove 120 nonsense papers from published journals.  A French computer scientist named Cyril Labbé had developed a program for detecting papers generated by software called SCIgen, much to the frustration of academic tricksters everywhere.  He has so far informed IEEE of 100 fakes and Springer of sixteen.  A least one of the papers was “authored” by scholars who had no idea their names were being used in such a way.

There are many stages in which an elementary standard of quality control could have eliminated nonsense papers from the pool—upon initial receipt, when the editors could review and desk-reject; at the peer-review stage, when a colleague could question authenticity; at the editing stage, when the copy editor could discover the gibberish.  It would appear that, in a minimum of 120 instances, at least two STEM publishers squandered repeated opportunities to provide their readership with genuine, useful research.

Six Things Your Copy Editor Just Won’t Do (and a Few More They’d Love To)

copy cat

Copy cat. (Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker)

I’ve noted some confusion among my clients and acquaintances about what, exactly, copy editors do.  Or rather, not confusion—full-on misconceptions.  I think the hang-up here is that the average joe, even the average highly educated joe, is not aware of the distinctions between types of editing.  People sometimes come to me because someone has suggested that their papers are problematic enough that they could use “a good editor,” but when I am serving as a copy editor, transformation (insofar as it is possible at all) is not a service I provide.  Big changes are the game of the developmental editor.  When I’m hired to copyedit, I just fix mistakes—pedestrian things like grammar and punctuation.

Here are two handy lists of thing your copy editor will and will not do, since the Internet appears to love everything in list form.*

Things Your Copy Editor Just Won’t Do

1. Rethink your argument.
2. Suddenly make your paper brilliant.
3. Edit anything other than final drafts.
4. Deal adequately with last-minute changes.
5. Make major decisions for you.
6. Make things “perfect.”

When I’m hired to copyedit, I try to emphasize a couple of things to my clients.  First, I should not receive anything other than your final draft.  The sequence of changes I make when I read for copy errors matters (e.g, the first time a person is mentioned, one should use their first and last names).  If you revise after I finalize, things get mixed up and it looks like I’ve done an idiot job.  This is embarrassing and also runs counter to the point of hiring a copy editor in the first place.  Second, no copy editor will ever make things “perfect.”  We are humans.  We make mistakes and omissions.  Any meddling with a manuscript inevitably introduces a few new errors.  Within publishing houses, copyedited manuscripts will often be sent to a second person for proofreading precisely because of this potential for human error.

Things Your Copy Editor Will Enthusiastically Do

1. Polish your language.
2. Edit for grammar, spelling, and clarity.
3. Take a relatively hands-off approach.
4. Format according to a specific style sheet.
5. Fix your citations.
6. Terminate minor but embarrassing mistakes with extreme prejudice.

So really what copy editors do is take your final draft, straighten it up, make it conform to a particular style, and move on.  We save you from all those embarrassing red squiggles that the teacher covered your term papers with in high school, but not the C+ at the top.  Folks who rewrite or even reimagine your output for you are different types of editors, whose roles we’ll take on in a future post.

*I sometimes worry that is completely eroding the globe’s ability to think nonlinear thoughts.

A Riddle, Wrapped in an Enigma, Wrapped in a Style Book: Exploring Style Sheets

A monk in a scriptorium. Medieval manuscript o...

A monk in a scriptorium. I could kill for a scriptorium. Editorium? Medieval manuscript of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we’ll discuss a major tool in the copy editor’s arsenal—the style sheet.  I know it took me some time before I figured out what other people’s style sheets looked like (answer: they are diverse).  I’ll provide a few examples today for newbies who aren’t sure what they’re like and for others who have simply never gotten the courage to inquire.

Copy editors develop a record called a style sheet for nearly every project.  They use it to record stylistic choices they’ve made on ambiguous issues, so that the edit is made the same way every time.  People also commonly add rules from a style book (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style) that they have a hard time remembering but know will come in handy.

In 2.52, Chicago states that “to ensure consistency, for each manuscript the editor must keep an alphabetical list of words or terms to be capitalized, italicized, hyphenated, spelled, or otherwise treated in any way unique to the manuscript.”  The manual provides a visual example in the form of fig. 2.3, which features, basically, an alphabetized list of terms as they should appear in the text.  For example, “Ungdom mot vold (rom)” indicates that instances of the foreign phrase “Ungdom mot vold,” though in a foreign language, should not be italicized.

My style sheets are less organized and economical.  Here’s an excerpt from my sheet for a project on Hinduism.
Month-day-year for dates (July 20, 1982)

Capitalize Raj.
Capitalize Ilbert Bill.
Quotation marks around Sanskrit passages in footnotes, if only to differentiate them from the translations that follow sometimes.  But don’t italicize.
Capitalize Purana.
Capitalize Vedanta.

There are also journal style sheets and house style sheets; these are more formal documents, distributed to copy editors working for a particular publishing house or on a particular journal.  Theoretically, they outline the ways in which the publisher has found it necessary to deviate from the preferred style book.  The journal style sheet for one prominent social science publication, for example, is seventeen pages long and covers issues such as the formatting of acknowledgment notes and hypothesis statements.  It states, counter to its guiding light CMoS, that editors should “use arabic numerals for 10 and above in text and titles” (the manual says 100 and above).

A book publisher for which I have taken an editing test sent me a twenty-five-page style sheet that included such dictums as “[Since we are] a secular and humanist/freethought publisher, [we] prefer BCE (Before the Common Era) to BC (Before Christ) and CE (Common Era) to AD (Anno Domini). These should be set in full caps following the year.”  Most of the sheet, however, contained basic grammar and style rules no different from normal careful usage (though enormously confusing to understand upon first reading).  Slogging through twenty-five pages of statements like “when a dependent clause is sandwiched between two main clauses, put a comma before the conjunction, after the conjunction, and after the dependent clause” is pretty stressful when all you want is to complete your editing test on time!

Female Academics: Quit Cheating Me

citation needed

Citation needed, women of the world! (Photo credit: Dan4th)

Citations and bibliographies are, by far, my least favorite writing to copyedit.  They’re boring and rote and fiddly, and when they’re not boring and rote, they’re confusing and fiddly.  Still, at times I’m grateful to see them coming—they add up to some serious billable hours, and clients are often intensely grateful to be saved the formatting work.

But here’s a surprising bit of news from the international relations journal International Organization: my female clients may be holding out on me!  According to Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, and Barbara F. Walter, women academics cite themselves less than men do (“The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations,” published online, August 28, 2013).  This is more than just a funny little “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” quirk; in many fields, the number of citations a scholar’s article receives affects his or her tenure bid.  And, of course, the tenure pipeline affects who obtains full professorship, which in turns affects the top echelons of administrators.

So ladies, cite your own work!  My career, your career, and academic women’s careers in general will benefit if you do.

Note: The original article is behind a pay wall, so see a summary in The Economist here.

Academic Journals: How Do These Darn Things Work?

in the stacks

Library stacks. (Photo credit: eclecticlibrarian)

Those of you who know me know that I work at an academic journal by day.  I’m hesitant to blog about this in depth because I don’t want to be seen as speaking for my publication.  I am asked questions about my field, though, so I thought I’d address them through a classic cop-out: reblogging someone else’s thoughts on the matter.

A blogger called Female Science Professor, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has written this brief introduction to what goes on under the hood in an academic journal.  Enjoy.

To Proof or Not to Proof

It used to be that when I asked people to correct my writing, I’d get confused about whether to ask them to “proofread” or “copyedit.”  No more!  Now that I’m in the publishing industry, I actually know the difference.

“Proofreading” is performed on proofs—in essence, the rehearsal round of a book or other manuscript that’s about to be published.  Proofs are already as perfect as you can make them, and physically resemble the finished product.  Proofreading is going through the text, line by line, to spot whatever small errors are left (or were introduced during typesetting).

Copyediting happens much earlier in the process, and involves checking writing for problems with clarity, grammar, style, and so on—in other words, cleaning up the writer’s final draft.  Generally, this process will generate queries that must be resolved with the author; proofreading, in contrast, rarely does.

Or, as the gentleman who taught my manuscript editing class, Erik Carlson, told us, proofreading can be done with music on.  Copyediting can’t.  These days I request that people copyedit my resume and cover letter.