My article on open access in the New Scientist provoked an email from copy-editor Miranda Potter. Starting from the article’s mention of my recent paper in PLoS ONE, she raises the question of who is going to pay for copy-editing services if the drive to OA is accompanied by downward pressure on price (the $1350 fee I paid to the journal did not include any provision for copy-editing).
This re-ignites some of the arguments about quality that were discussed in my post on PLoS ONE, but it is an important topic so I was glad that she agreed to allow me to post her email here. Please feel free to respond in the comments.
From: Miranda Potter
Subject: Open access publishing
“Did part of the fee that you paid to the open access journal go to a scientific copy-editor, so that you received a high-quality proof for comment and correction? Regardless of whether papers go through the review process, I have yet to see a paper that could not be improved upon by the services of a native English-speaking, highly qualified copy-editor.
The reviewers have many tasks and cannot possibly be expected to copy-edit every poorly written article. These roles are very different; the reviewer is a specialist in the subject area, whereas the copy-editor is a generalist who spends their time reading many scientific manuscripts, sometimes in very different fields. The reviewer should have sufficient in-depth knowledge to be able to provide constructive critcism of the scientific issues presented and help the authors to ensure that their article is high quality.
In contrast, the copy-editor ensures that the final article conforms to journal style, which is a more mundane, technical role. More importantly, the copy-editor reads every word of each manuscript and helps the authors by ensuring that any little glitches that the reviewers don’t have time to spot are picked up before the article appears in press, thereby preventing embarassing errata. You will find that for the journals with higher impact factors, the copy-editors will check that every panel of every figure matches its description both in the main text and in the figure legends, right down to the last asterisk. In fact, you would be amazed at how many meritorious authors cannot even manage to spell the names and addresses of their colleagues correctly.
I’m sure you’re aware that a paper written by a native Spanish speaker is likely to use a very different English linguistic style from one written by a native Polish or a Japanese speaker. If left without copy-editing, such papers might be very difficult for the worldwide readership to understand. I’m afraid there is a reason why scientific writing tends to be rather dry and structured in a certain way; it facilitates general comprehension. Isn’t that the most important thing?
If journals/authors opt out of paying for copy-editing services, I fear that science published directly on the Internet may degenerate into international gobbledegook and lose credibility. Who will stand up for the scientific copy-editors of the world?”