Responding to a steady rise in submissions from non-English countries — particularly from countries undergoing unprecedented scientific growth — many publishers are eager to steer authors to commercial English-language editing companies rather than provide these services themselves (see “Publishing: A Helping Hand,” Nature 23 Dec 2010).
Search Google for “journal editing,” “science editing,” or “English language editing,” and you’ll find a list of many commercial services willing to review, refine, and revise your manuscript at rates that reflect the type and urgency of your request.
One must wonder whether these companies are really providing a helping hand or exploiting the hopes of academics, especially when they make claims like this:
Get published in high-impact journals with American Journal Experts
Advertised in my Cornell newsletter for postdocs were job offerings for reviewers, translators, and English-language editors for a venture called American Journal Experts, a company that brands itself by the fact that it hires only people from top American universities as English-language editors. The minimum requirement to be an editor is enrollment in a PhD or MD program.
I should also be more specific about what they mean by “job” because what they are offering are not full-time, salaried positions with benefits, but piecemeal contract work.
American Journal Experts was started in 2009 by Shashi Mudunuri, a Duke graduate with a BA in computer science. The company is based in Durham, NC, with over 2,000 contractors throughout the US, according to Lisa Pautler, Director of Marketing for AJE. Ms. Pautler told me contractors can make about $25/hr for their work.
In addition to English-language editing, American Journal Experts will perform language translation, pre-submission peer-review, and even recommend journals to submit one’s manuscript, based on a number of criteria such as scope, impact factor, acceptance rate, and publication fees.
They have partnered with many publishers, societies, and journals, and offer 10% discounts for every manuscript referred by these partners. The list of corporate logos on AJE’s website is impressive, although these relationships may raise some eyebrows.
- PNAS is listed as an AJE journal partner, yet the PNAS journal website lists 27 separate English-language editing services with an explicit statement that PNAS “does not take responsibility for or endorse these services.”
- PLoS is listed as an AJE association partner, yet PLoS’s referral list also takes an explicit stand against endorsing any of them.
- Elsevier is listed as a publishing partner, yet runs its own language editing services, so it seems a little odd why they would send referrals to a competing company.
When I asked Ms. Pautler at AJE about the nature of this partnership, she included this reply:
Other custom partnership opportunities we have developed include revenue-sharing, co-marketing, and even private-label services. . . . The mission of AJE is to accelerate global discovery by helping international researchers get published. So we are particularly interested in the open access movement, and are always looking for new ways we can partner to advance the cause.
To me, editorial services revenue-sharing with a publisher crosses that line of impropriety as it creates a conflict of interest between the editorial office and the services it has outsourced. The presence of publisher, journal, and association logos on the AJE site — and their description as “partners” — conveys a strong message of endorsement, while it is clear that the message of endorsement is what most publishers want to avoid.
As for perceived endorsement, the logos of Harvard, MIT, Yale, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, and U Penn also emblazon the bottom mast of the AJE homepage. These universities are cited as places from which some AJE editors originate, yet universities don’t endorse commercial editing companies.
Just to be clear, I have no qualms about commercial editing companies. What I do object to is the semblance of a profit-sharing relationship with publishers. I say “semblance” because I am not privy to the details of these arrangements, although American Journal Experts is conveying a strong relationship with publishers and universities through the use of logos and the use of terms like “partnership,” “discounts,” and “revenue sharing.”
The day I read about jobs at AJE was the day I was sent a poorly-written manuscript for peer-review. “Don’t worry about the English,” the editor advised me, “I can deal with that.” After a quick read, I submitted my shortest review ever:
Their main findings are not novel. Their approach is atheoretical. Their analysis is fundamentally flawed. Poor English is the least of their concerns.
This is one manuscript that won’t be referred for editing.