Wednesday 24 April 2013

What, Exactly, Do The Elsevier Editors Do? Judging From Lahaye et al. (JAS 40:2840--2847, 2013) They Do Boom All!

Before I dig in, as it were, to the substance of this paper by Lahaye et al., I have a few words to say about the presentation quality of this article. In brief, I find the data chosen for tables and figures to be unhelpful in assessing the validity of many of the claims made. I find also that the text is riddled with non-standard archaeological terminology, and there are plenty of examples of lexical, grammatical and other errors that could have been avoided if there had been a native speaker of English on the research team, and should have been avoided if [and probably because] the editor had been a native speaker. I am appalled, not by the research team's effort to communicate in English, but by the fact that no one on the editorial staff seemed to care. At least half the journal's Editorial Board I know to be native speakers. How this level of English expression was allowed through to publication is beyond me. In a moment, I'll provide a selective list of sub-standard data and lexicon.

First, though, I thought I'd check to see if the publisher, Elsevier, had any policy on the expected level of English expression. Indeed, they do. Have a look.
The passage that I find most telling is this one
Our long history of publishing peer-reviewed scientific journals has equipped us to ensure your English is free of grammatical and spelling errors. 
That Elsevier have chosen to offer a paper "free of errors" FOR A PRICE tells me that the journal is willing to publish sub-standard English, as long as it is, on the whole, comprehensible. I'd say that broken English is comprehensible, but it doesn't constitute what the journal calls "English ... of a high quality." Notwithstanding that, the caliber of expression evident in Lahaye et al.'s article obviously wasn't enough to "cause delays and initial rejections."

Okay. What do I see as problematic? Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. [Will I ever get those show tunes out of my brain? It's getting full.]

ABSTRACT, line 1.
"Numerous data, from archaeological researches"
That's simply incorrect grammar. "Researches" is the third-person present form of the verb "to research." The plural of research is "research."
ABSTRACT, line 6.
"all our observations ... tend to prove the good integrity of the site and the anthropological nature of the artifacts."
I'm gonna guess that, by "good integrity" the authors mean stratigraphic integrity, and that the artifacts with an "anthropological" nature are those attributed to human behaviour and not geofacts [as stone that has been fractured in such a way that it is difficult to rule out either nature or human agency.
ABSTRACT, line 8.
"The results bring new pieces of evidence of a human presence"
I've heard of "pieces" of a puzzle and"pieces of eight," but I've never encountered "pieces" of evidence. If taken literally, the use of "pieces" in this context would indicate that not much had been recovered---only pieces of what they might have hoped to obtain.
TEXT, line 1.
"Understanding the dynamics, knowing the age and the way the first peopling of America took place is, more than ever, a challenge for research, and is closely linked with societal issues."
Given that "Understanding" is part of what appears to be a compound subject [of one sort or another], one has to assume that the verb in this sentence is "is," which is followed by "a challenge for research ... [that is] ... "closely linked with societal issues." "Understanding" what, exactly. The "dynamics." But, the "dynamics" of what? If one is to make any sense out of this sentence, whatsoever, one must infer that "the age" and "the way" of the peopling of America are the dynamics alluded to in the first part. And, speaking of firsts, this is the first sentence in the article.
TEXT, line 3.
"Different theories have been in contradiction for a long time, and the paradigm of a post-11,500 years BP occupation has remained predominant for a long time."
I can't help from suggesting that the first part, in a very awkward way, is telling us that "contradictory theories" have been around "for a long time." "Years" is simply redundant. A certain "paradigm" has "predominated," we are told,  AGAIN "for a long time." I wouldn't let this sentence stand in an undergraduate essay.
TEXT, line 6.
"Nevertheless numerous new pieces of data question the initial acceptance of a theory of a migration from Siberia to Beringia, and then from the north to the south of the American continent."
Okay. Let's see if we can sort this one out. The subject is "pieces." Those "pieces" question something. That's impossible. A "piece" of something is incapable of "questioning" anything. [I'll ignore the use of the term "migration," which implies that these people knew where they were going.] This "migration" is said to have taken place beginning in Siberia, continuing across Beringia, and from there, "from the north to the south" of a "continent" that doesn't exist on the map. As to the direction taken once on the continent that has no existence, it would have been difficult for the first people to have travelled in a SOUTH TO NORTH direction!

This paper is heading for a failing mark, and we're not out of the THE FIRST PARAGRAPH yet!

TEXT, line 9.
"Maybe, most of all, these new data question the values of the terminus post-quem imposed by a chronological limit fixed to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)."
In this example I've highlighted the words that are the frame of this sentence. I'll condense it for you. "These data question the values of the LGM." Somehow I don't think that's what the authors wanted to say. Once again, we have an inanimate object---in this case "data"---questioning "values." We won't find out until much later in the paper why the LGM is mentioned in the introductory paragraph.
TEXT, line 11.
"As far as the southern part of the continent is concerned, until recently it was admitted that it had been quickly colonized after the diffusion of the Clovis culture in the north." There's that mythical continent again! In this, the last sentence of the first paragraph, we are told that someone has "admitted" [South America] was colonized after some diffusion in the north. I doubt that anybody "admitted" anything.

Phew! We've now made it through the first paragraph.

As you can plainly see, at a minimum this article's first paragraph is rife with editorial shortcomings. Believe me, it doesn't end there. As a result, there isn't time to cover the rest of this article.

Someone should give Elsevier a kick in the ass, especially considering how much their damned publications cost!

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