Sunday, June 8, 2008

Permanent record

In my work in scholarly publishing, I care deeply about preserving the integrity of the scientific and academic literature. In the print age, when scholarly publishers had sizable and discrete print runs, most readers could be assured that they were reading the same version of a work as their colleagues. We developed an esoteric jargon of editions and printings, copyright dates and publication dates; and none of these were relevant for differentiating versions of the typical work which came out in a single edition. The electronic age, however, makes it easy to disseminate a near-infinite variety of drafts of any given work, with major or minor changes sometimes dependent on the vagaries of your own computer if you are reading or printing a pdf file. Since there are still advantages to knowing that you are reading the same version of a work as your colleagues, I put a lot of effort into ensuring that a single version of a work is reproduced consistently across formats and across print runs, even when those print runs are individual copies printed by readers. The scholarly conversation should be about data and theories and ideas, not arguments or questions about what an author actually said in a published work.

A blog like this one has a marked flexibility to me, on the other hand. I frequently make small corrections a few minutes after publishing a post, and sometimes rework sentences days or weeks later in random fits of editing. I’ve occasionally removed entire posts, and one of my first comments (also deleted) was from someone wanting to find a post I’d written about First Alert’s carbon monoxide detectors and then removed. I sometimes feel a twinge from my academic publisher side, but my editor side feels indulged and contented.

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