11.0608 gatekeepers and publishers

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 27 Feb 1998 20:28:30 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 608.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 24 Feb 98 10:16:45 CST
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: gatekeepers

One of the problems of scholarship, particularly the publication of
scholarship, is that of the postulant at the gate and the gatekeeper (not to
sound too Kafka-esque). I write this partly in the pain of having two
rejections in the same week, so you know where I am coming from. Robert
Merton invented a thing he called "The Matthew Effect", based on Matthew's
having said that "for unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall
have abundance, but from him that hath not shall be taken away from that
which he hath," or "them as got, gits." By this he means that people who
publish a lot have a tendency to get their stuff published. It doesn't work
that way. I went over 30 years without receiving a single rejection, now two
in the same week. Having long since passed the biblical, I feel hurt and
unwanted. Interesting also are the remarks: Article no. 1: "Hasn't kept up
with the literature," article no. 2: "Too scholarly." I don't want to sound
like the famous Harvard professor who, having failed to get a Ph.D. and being
chidden for this, said "But who would examine me?"
I have been on the other side of things, and I know the problems the
editor faces. In fact, I just received an article to referee from a major
journal in our field. I feel trepidatious about judging a colleague's work
in view of my recent experiences. I wonder whether "refereed journal" is
such a good thing. One often receives requests to judge a piece of work, and
one can see that the editor had not a clue as to ones expertise. I have
seen, horresco referens, graduate students given articles to referee.
Everyone has someone telling them what to do, and the editor has to satisfy
his superiors. He has deadlines, financial problems, unreasonable authors,
etc., but many editors sound like St. Bernard's prelates. Power corrupts.
The next problem is the so-called "vanity press." Most presses nowadays
require a subvention on the part of the author of the book. What vanity?
Of course, electronic publishing is always there, and in some cases I
feel that one gets more readers that way. If one publishes on CD-ROM, one
has at least control of mise-en-page and such things, and can do hypertext.
And the guilt for poor work can be squarely placed on the author, who has not
had to fight with adamantine editors or unswayable typesetters.
Thank you for listening to me. As the old saying goes, this may not be
well written, but it is true: se non e ben trovato, e vero.

Jim Marchand.

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