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Re: local/distributed vs global/unified archives

On Wed, 12 Mar 2008, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

Presumably, universities that set up their own IRs think they are going to gain some kind of additional prestige or score additional credit with the public by posting their faculty's work as soon as it is written, or at least as soon as it is peer reviewed. But consider what it is that is actually being posted: work that has not been copyedited.
The purpose of OA self-archiving is not to showcase non-copy-edited work; it is to make peer-reviewed research accessible to all of its potential users, webwide, instead of just to those whose institutions can afford to subscribe to the journal in which it was published, as in the paper era.

Ask the countless researchers who cannot access articles they seek whether they would rather have a peer-reviewed but un-copy-edited copy or no copy at all.

And ask authors whether they would rather deny their access-denied potential users online access to their peer-reviewed research (and lose their usage and impact), as in the paper era, in order to protect them from having to use an un-copy-edited copy.

The answers to these questions are quite transparent to anyone who does not have a vested interest in something other than research usage and progress. I regret to say that although peer-reviewed journal publishing has a long tradition of performing an essential service to research in the paper era, it appears to have entirely lost its bearings in the online era, getting research and researchers' priorities so topsy-turvy as to sound almost absurd. Profoundly out of touch with reality is perhaps a more charitable and accurate a descriptor.

Sandy's specialty, however, is books, not give-away research articles, and there all OA bets are off for the time being.

Stevan Harnad

PS Journal article copy-editing is not worth paying for twice. Universities will pay for it directly only if and when they are no longer paying for it through journal subscriptions that already cover its costs many times over (i.e., if and when journals downsize to becoming just online peer-review [+ copy-editing] service-providers, on the Gold OA cost-recovery model).

No one seems to place much importance on copyediting these days, but in my
experience as a copyeditor early in my publishing career and as witness to
plenty of poor writing as an acquiring editor over a nearly forty-year
period, I am baffled by the eagerness of universities, like Harvard most
recently, to show off such poor writing.

Let me refer this list to an article titled "Sinners Well Edited" in the
latest issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, vol. 39, no. 2 (January
2008), pp. 168-173. The author, Adam A.J. Deville, is an academic himself,
but has spent much of his career editing "monograph, anthologies of articles,
and thousands of pages of articles" for a journal in the humanities. Here is
his verdict based on this experience: "Too much academic prose

He elaborates: "Senior academics, long tenured at major universities,
regularly submit papers that I would never have dared to submit in an
undergraduate course, much less a graduate course, and still less to a juried
journal of my peers. Too many papers--including, most egregiously those from
authors educated or teaching at Oxbridge or Ivy League schools--are rambling,
repetitive, insufficiently researched, and badly argued. They ignore basic
stylistic guidelines with an impunity that can only be regarded as arrogant.
Basic punctuation can be used or withheld at will and whim.  Footnotes can be
subject to gross abuses--left insouciantly incomplete, used ostentatiously to
demonstrate how much reading one has done on irrelevant topics, rendered
according to no known style sheet (or a mishmash of several), or containing
sources conjured out of thin air. Vast swaths of blatantly relevant
literature...are regularly overlooked. Precious jargon and abstruse theory
are preferred to clear and straightforward exposition....Sentences of
Germanic length give rise to conglomerate paragraphs spasmodically swallowing
several topics and running breathlessly on for two or more entire pages.
Extraneous tangents destroy any sense of a paper's direction. Scholarly
passion can be abruptly set aside for vengeful bouts of puerile point scoring
and polemics, then just as abruptly resumed again."

I can vouch for the accuracy of this description from my own copyediting
experience, which included massively correcting the footnotes of at least one
Harvard senior scholar. I can also testify that a Pulitzer Prize was won by
one book through the heroic efforts of another copyeditor on the staff, who
did so much as to deserve credit as co-author.

So, why does a Harvard, or any university for that matter, want to expose
such poor prose to the world at large, including the public? Among the latter
might be, for example, state legislators asked to provide funding for the
university, potential donors to capital campaigns, and high school seniors
thinking about where to apply to college. Surely, revealing this dirty
laundry is not going to help raise the university's esteem in anyone's eyes.
Is the imperative to spread knowledge quickly so overwhelming, especially in
the humanities, as to outweigh the potential damage--nay, even ridicule--that
such exposure could bring? I could see Congress awarding a new "Golden
Fleece" prize to the worst of such writing posted in IRs, and it would be
subject to endless jibes from our late night show hosts and other satirists
like Jon Stewart.

To avoid this consequence, universities like Harvard will need to consider
investing substantial money to have the work of its faculty edited before
posting. Are they prepared to step up to the plate in that way? Have they
even thought about this? I doubt it.

Sandy Thatcher
Penn Stte University Press