We can do the research, write the articles, publish the journals, and peer review the contributions. But there is still one thing publishers can do that open access anthropology can’t do: copyedit.
In principle, our ideas don’t stop being right if they’re spelled wrong. In practice, academics get incredibly freaked out if you don’t adhere to the bizarre and illogical orthographical conventions of English. Copyediting is an indispensable part of creating open access anthropology, and it requires highly skilled people — our usual strategy of creating open source software to replace the Big Content’s technical infrastructure won’t work here.
This is the biggest challenge we face, and there isn’t a good solution: copyediting requires time, concentration, and training in a unique way of looking at texts. Open access works by leveraging the human resources of academy, but academics often lack the unique skill of copyediting. Given the amount of attention the rest of the publication process requires, we lack the time as well. Where are we going to get a cadre of cheap, high quality copy editors?
I see a couple of possible solutions.
The first and perhaps least likely solution would be to expand our existing model of copyediting. All over the country in little nooks and crannies universities, presses and professors have go-to people who they give copyediting work to: graduate students who have dropped out and support themselves on odd jobs, secretaries who have copyediting superpowers, and others who are in the margins of the academic system. With the Internet there might be a way to find these people and hook them up with work. If pooled the needs of several projects, perhaps that would be enough to clothe and feed a pool of copyeditors? If there was such a network it might attract work that we don’t even know is out there yet.
This approach could be combined with other means to encourage copyediting: making it a legitimate destination for subventions, combining it with lectureships or perhaps other quasi-academic positions like lab management or webpage design, and so forth. In addition to making it more explicitly part of the administrative work of the academy, we need to work to change our culture and to legitimate — indeed, to celebrate! — the incredible work that copyeditors do.
The second option is similar to the first: crowdsourcing. Break the job into many small pieces, use some technology to make it easy to collaborate, and then get many volunteers to do it. If the costs were very low — in the DIY range that homebrew open access projects usually run in — we could even pay people. In fact, this might be a way to help people discover their inner copyeditor and thus stimulate interest in solution #1.
Key to the second option would be to partner with groups that are working on existing solutions to this problem. For scanning OA documents and proofreading the OCR Ye olde and noble house of distributed proofreaders comes to mind as an example here of a great success we could latch on to: they want content and volunteers, we want an infrastructure to copyedit our work. I would say it’s a match made in heaven, but the devil is in the details on this one and we’d need a test run to see how it would work in practice. Another possible solution is Soylent, which I know less about but which looks promising and might very well be bent to our evil purposes if we wanted to actually copyedit, say, journal articles.
Going this route could be a way to turn average academics into copyeditors. It would require asking existing copyeditors to get used to a new and potentially less controlled system — something that might not appeal to the unique blend of selflessness and control-obsession that copyediting seems to instill in its adherents. It would be great to find a few, very small projects to get our feet wet in this area.