Editorial freedoms?

Or: on editors changing your article without notifying (neither before nor after publication).

The book The changing dynamic of Cuban civil society came out last year right before I went to Cuba, so I had read it as a preparation, and, it being a new book, I thought I might as well write a review for it and see if I could get it published. The journal Latin American Politics and Society (LAPS) was interested, and so it came to be that I submitted the book review last July and got that review accepted. Two days ago I was informed by Wiley-Blackwell, the publisher of LAPS, that I could download the offprint of the already published review: it had appeared in LAPS 50(4):189-192 back in the winter 2008 issue.

The published review is for “subscribers only” (but I’m allowed to email it to you) and to my surprise and disbelief it was not quite the same as the one I had sent off to the LAPS book review editor Alfred Montero. They had made a few changes to style and grammar, which, given that English is not my mother tongue, was probably warranted (although it would have been appropriate if I were informed about that beforehand). There are, however, also three significant changes to the content. More precisely: two deletions and one addition.

The first one is at the beginning, where an introduction is given on what constitutes ‘civil society’. Like in the book, some examples are given, as well as the notion of a ‘categorisation’ of organisations. The original text (see pdf) is as follows:

According to this description, hobbies such as bird watching and playing rugby is not part of civil society, but the La Molina against the US base in Vicenza and Greenpeace activism are. In addition, one may want to make a categorization between the different types of collectives that are part of a civil society: people have different drives or ideologies for improving or preventing deterioration of their neighborhood compared to saving the planet by attempting to diminish the causes of climate change.

This has been trimmed down to:

According to this description, hobbies such as bird watching and playing rugby are not part of civil society, but Greenpeace activism is. In addition, one may want to make a categorization between the different types of collectives that are part of a civil society: people have different drives or ideologies for improving or preventing deterioration of their neighborhood, compared to saving the planet by attempting to diminish the causes of climate change.

A careful reader may notice that there is a gap in the logic of the examples: the No Dal Molin activism against the US base is an example of NIMBY-activism (Not In My BackYard), referred to in the second sentence but the example in the first sentence is missing. There being no example of this type in the book, I felt the need to give one anyway. Perhaps if I would have used the for the US irrelevant NIMBY-activism against the TAV (high speed train) it would have remained in the final text. The activism of Molin, however, is a much more illustrative example of the interactions between a local grass-roots civil society organisation and both national and international politics, and how the so-called ‘spheres of influence’ of the actors have taken shape.

The addition is a verb, “to act”. The original:

Christine Ayorinde discusses both the historical reluctance of the, until 1992, atheist state against religious groups—used as counterrevolutionary tool primarily by the U.S. in the early years after the Revolution—and the loosening by the, now constitutionally secular, state …

The new sentence:

Christine Ayorinde discusses both the historical reluctance of the atheist state (until 1992) to act against religious groups—used as counterrevolutionary tool primarily by the United States in the early years after the revolution—and the loosening by the now-constitutionally secular state, …

But it is not the case that the state was reluctant to act against religious groups; they were reluctant and hampering involvement of foreign religious groups because it was used by primarily the US as a way to foment dissent against the Revolution.

The second deletion actually breaks a claim I make about the chapters in the edited volume and weakens an important observation on the operations of civil society organisations in Cuba, and of foreign NGOs in particular.

The original:

A personal experience perspective is given by Nino Pagliccia from the Canadian Volunteer Work Brigade (Chapter 5). This is a fascinating chapter when taken in conjunction with Alexander Gray’s chapter that analyses personal perspectives and changes in procedures from the field from a range of civil society actors (Chapter 7). … Pagliccia’s, as well as the representative of Havana Ecopolis project’s—Legambiente-funded, which is at the green-left spectrum of the Italian political arena—documented experiences of cooperation in Cuba have the component of shared ideology, whereas other representatives, such as from Save the Children UK, talk about shared objectives instead even when their Cuban collaborators assume shared ideology. Notably, the latter group of foreign NGOs report more difficulties about their experiences in Cuba.

How it appears in the published version:

A personal perspective is given by Nino Pagliccia, from the Canadian Volunteer Work Brigade (chapter 5). This is a fascinating chapter when considered together with Gray’s chapter 7, which analyzes personal perspectives and changes in procedures from a range of civil society actors. … Pagliccia’s documented experiences of cooperation in Cuba have the component of shared ideology, whereas other representatives, such as those from Save the Children UK, talk about shared objectives instead, even when their Cuban collaborators assume the former. Notably, the latter group of foreign NGOs report more difficulties in their experiences in Cuba.

But the reference to Havana Ecopolis comes from Chapter 7. In fact, of the interviewees, he was the only one really positive about the experiences in the successful foreign-initiated project/NGO, which made me think back to Pagliccia’s Workers Brigade and solidarity vs. charity. I wondered where the funding of Havana Ecopolis came from, Googled a bit, and arrived at the Legambiente website (project flyer). Needless to say, also openly leftist organisations had positive experiences on collaboration; but in analyzing effectiveness of foreign NGO involvement, unveiling the politically-veiled topical NGOs is a distinguishing parameter. Moreover, it is an, informally, well-known one with respect to Cuba’s reluctance of letting foreign NGOs into the country. Thus, it explains why the Havana Ecopolis experience stood out compared to the other documented NGO experience in Cuba. But now, in the revised text, the “Notably, the latter group … more difficulties …” sounds a bit odd and not backed up at all. They even toned down Pagliccia’s contribution from “A personal experience perspective” to “A personal perspective”: there surely is a difference between being informed by having spent some time in Cuba working side-by-side with the Cubans and just having a perspective on Cuba without having a clue what the country is like; now it reads like ‘yeah, whatever—opinions are like assholes: everybody’s got one…’. Note that when one reads the book, one sensibly can make the link between the data and analysis presented on solidarity vs. charity vs. cooperation and the shared-ideology vs. shared-objectives NGOs (ch5 & 7). Rests to make a categorisation of foreign NGOs and conduct a quantitative analysis to back up the obvious qualitative one.

I hope that this case is an exception, but maybe it is the modus operandi in the humanities that things get edited out. It certainly is not in computer science, where only the authors can fiddle a bit with the text when a paper is accepted, and even less so in the life sciences where, upon paper acceptance, thou shalt not change a single word.

UPDATE (22-3-2009): the current status of the contact I had with the LAPS editorial office is that the book review editor, Alfred Montero, did not change anything, but that that happened during copyediting by the managing editor, Eleanor Lahn. She has provided me with an explanation why the changes were done, which has a curious argumentation to which I have replied. This reply also contains a request for clarity and consistency in the procedure (now the book editor assumes the copyeditor contacts the author, whereas the copyeditor normally does not do so), but I have not yet received a response on that email.

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One response to “Editorial freedoms?

  1. Pingback: Topics about Hobbies » Editorial freedoms?

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