Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Horror stories from the trenches of archaeological publishing
Most scholars can come up with a number of "horror stories" about their experiences in publishing. I'll tell a few such stories here (anonymously, to protect the guilty), and I invite readers to send me some of their horror stories that I can post. There are several reasons for doing this (other than the fact that some of these are entertaining): such stories can show younger scholars that they are not alone when they are torpedoed by a clueless editor or a biased reviewer, and it stimulates thinking about ethical and other professional issues in publishing. Some of these stories (though not necessarily the two presented below) happened to me, and some were told to me by others.
Horror story #1: The edited book that quietly disappeared
Graduate student Flint Cannery was asked to contribute a paper to an edited volume honoring a senior scholar with whom he had worked. As a student with few publications, Flint felt honored about this. He had a nice paper almost ready to go, so he worked it into shape, sent it off to the volume editors, and added it to his CV as a paper in press. After not hearing any news for more than two years, Flint asked one of the editors what was happening with the volume, and was told that the volume had been scrapped. “Didn’t the other editors tell you? We dropped the idea over a year ago.”
This was a horror story for the imaginary Flint, because he wasted more than two years in publishing his paper. The paper was eventually published, but for a grad student or young professional, it is important to get papers published in a timely fashion. This could also be a horror story for the profession in that a potentially valuable book was scrapped, although on the other hand it may have been a typical bad edited volume, in which case the episode may have been a positive event for the profession (see my earlier posts on bad edited volumes). But in any case, this was bad for young Flint Cannery. Come to think of it, I have a paper in a similar situation myself right now: commissioned informally a few years ago for an edited volume that has yet to happen, although the editor(s) have never said one way or another whether the book will come together or not. Hmmmmm…….
Horror story #2: Biased reviewers
New assistant professor Ima Selectionist was disappointed when her paper was rejected by one of the leading archaeology journals. The paper received two reviews, one that was positive and in favor of publication, and one that was virulently negative. The negative review was obviously from someone who disagreed strongly with Ima’s theoretical approach. When she consulted her dissertation chair, Ima was told that the editor was also known for his anti-selectionist views. The same day that she received the rejection notice, Ima received a copy of a third review of her paper, very positive, directly from a reviewer who had just submitted it to the journal (evidently too late to make a difference).
So what should Ima do? Should she contact the editor and ask for a reconsideration? Or perhaps ask her dissertation chair to do this? Maybe she should simply send the paper to journal more receptive to selectionist approaches in archaeology. This is a horror story because a (presumably good) paper was rejected due to theoretical bias. The horror applies to both young Ima and to the profession generally (since a biased journal editor is not a good thing). By the way, I could have named the character Ima Poststructuralist or Ima Marxist; the important point here is the bias, not the particular theoretical orientation.
Do you have an interesting horror story? Send me an email if you want me to post it.