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Hello, I would like to provide some insight from my own perspective. I work as an editorial assistant at a big journal, although it is not big in philosophy. My assistantship is not a livable wage (15k). I manage the email, I manage the submission software, relations with the publisher, a lot of proofing, etc., and the turnover for my position is typically one or two years. Professors are not really paid for these editorial positions (even though they do boost their careers!) so they often view any time spent on these issues as supererogatory charity work. I hope from this picture it is pretty easy to see why these processes are in complete disarray.

Professors/grad students think of me as having a lot of power and influence when I use the journal gmail account, but that's really hogwash. I can't change anything. I can't accelerate any process. I don't make decisions, and honestly, I have enough trouble getting into contact with my higher-ups about issues for *myself* (i.e. the general maintenance of the journal). Professors at all levels are flighty; this means slow editing, slow review time, cancelled meeting, getting ghosted, everything.

What you are really frustrated at is the structure of the university. We *cannot* receive money from our publisher without the university taking a cut of up to 50%. We have no money, no income, no infrastructure, no employees. As long as journals continue to be structured in this way, you will not see any consistent long-term improvements. The best you will be able to hope for is that the profs on the EB are in cushy enough positions to be able to consistently take care of it as a passion project, which is not sustainable.

Maybe things are different at REALLY big journals, where the prestige is high enough that the immediate transmissability from cultural capital to real capital is enough to incentivize corporate-standard work. But for most -- it is not!

Marcus Arvan

@^.^: Thanks so much for sharing your insider's perspective, and I am truly sorry that you have to deal with all of that.

As you note, "As long as journals continue to be structured in this way, you will not see any consistent long-term improvements."

The question then is: what, if anything, can any of us feasibly and reasonably do to help change this awful situation for the better?

Don Quijote

Many publishers make a huge profit, even though they do not do anything or if they do, they do it wrong. Most of the work is done by unpaid authors, reviewers and editors. As long as people love their jobs so much that they are willing to do it for free, publishers can use the money not to improve the quality of the publishing process but to keep the money to themselves.

I publish regularly in a top journal in my field of specialization. The publisher, like many others, uses some low-paid people from developing countries to proofread and typeset the papers. Often the paper has more errors after copyedit than before. Some 'corrections' are due to faulty systems. For instance, the sentence "one day it might become possible to do X" always came back in the proofs as "1 day it might become possible to do X" - which I then have to correct back. I am not a native English speaker, yet I would do a better job and checking the grammar of the papers.

Jamin Asay

Two of my recent papers made it all the way to the online-first stage despite still having significant errors that were introduced by the typesetters, and that I explicitly flagged in my corrections to the proofs. As far as I can tell the typesetters just ignored my comments. Both of these were with big for-profit journal publishers. In one case the editor got the publisher to take the mistaken version taken down; in the other case the publisher refused.

Often when I submit my corrections to the proofs I tell the editorial team that I would like to see the next set of corrected proofs, precisely because my fixes so often get missed or ignored. And usually they comply and send them along.

R1 Postdoc

My experience as an author and a guest editor is that many publishers appear to be removing as much skilled human labour as possible from the copyediting and proofing process. So they do some combination of: (1) Using computer systems to automate copyediting and proofing (which introduce as many errors as they correct); (2) Outsourcing copyediting and proofing to the Global South, where English proficiency is either lacking or in a different dialect, and where staff are too overburdened to do a careful job anyhow; or (3) Simply not doing any copyediting or proofing at all, and thus relying entirely on the author to proofread the manuscript after typesetting with unreasonably short (24–72 hours) turnaround times. Given the large profits Elsevier et al. rake in each year, this lack of attention to detail and devaluing of copyediting and proofing work is unjustifiable. To quote the meme, they have played us for absolute fools.

Another postdoc

I've had similar problems at multiple Springer journals (but not at all at journals run by university presses, for whatever that's worth -- as R1 Postdoc says, these for-profit publishers do seem to have played us for fools), and at the risk of making copyeditors' jobs even more difficult, I think it's worth mentioning here two things I somewhat recently learned from a more senior colleague.

1. You don't *have* to use the journal's online proofing software. I had one experience in which the version that was in the software was so bad (as in, missing entire sections of text that the software didn't know how to format and so just skipped) that there was no way for me to make the corrections I needed to make. But! There is (at Springer, at least) also a link to a 'for reference' PDF, and if you make corrections on that PDF and email it back to the copyeditor, they'll accept it. (The last time I did this, no one saw my email for a couple of weeks, leading to a delay in the copyediting process. Not great, but better than publishing nonsense.)

2. Despite the fact that these publishers say you only have one chance to make your corrections, if you say in your email that you need to see a corrected proof before you will sign off on publication, you will get one. This has been a necessity for me on a couple of occasions; the proofs introduced so many errors into the text (as in, dozens and dozens) that it was almost impossible to believe that all of the edits would be done correctly. (And my suspicions were correct on each of these occasions. To get these papers up to standard turned out to require *6 or 7* rounds of proofs.)


I've had a similar experience, which has persuaded me to no longer submit to Springer or Elsevier journals-- and to no longer review for them. Instead, I'll allocate my time to open-access or university-run journals. Perhaps others in a position to consider (I realize not everyone is!) this might do the same.


To echo one commenter's perspective from the editorial office side, it is exactly as described. There is limited budget set aside for editorial office staffing and yet, increasingly, journals are being asked to take on more and more tasks and never see additional finanical or resource support. We take great pride in the journals we run and most of us are experienced editors. It pains us that we do not have the resources or time to devote to ensuring accuracey in the articles being published and regret that it reflects poorly on the journal. My biggest reccomendation to authors is please, please reach out to the editorial office whenever you have a question or concern. We are always happy to help and will do our best to get the problem resolved.

two cents

This is a real problem. I have contacted Springer to complain about their online correction system. There are still some bugs in the system, especially its automatic change of certain texts and indents. But the system is not extremely bad.

If publishers like Springer can use an online pdf correction system (so that what the author finally corrected is the published) rather than online webpage correction system, most problems may be solved.

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