Science editing

I was having a light-hearted conversation about editing the other day with my friend. She is a sociologist who studies race. We were going back and forth about the capitalization of “white” and “black.” We parried and challenged each other a little, all in good spirit. She is a grad student and said “well, I guess we’ll have to see whether journals make me lower-case ‘Black’ in my articles.” At first I told her they definitely would, because “Black” isn’t APA style. But then I reconsidered.

Journals tend to enforce certain styles. For example, I changed all times to Universal Times (UTC) as per journal style for my last journal job. There was no dissent. But then I started to think about what I was saying. Whether “basin” is lowercased or uppercase is not a very emotional decision, even for me, and I like to make editing style choices to be as emotional as possible. What can I say? It keeps me amused.

But capitalizing “Black” and lowercasing (or not) “White” are very political, sensitive decisions. There is a lot of thought, consideration, history, and life experience that goes into those style decisions. I told my friend that I wasn’t sure how a humanities journal would deal with that. We laughed about how “basin” could be an emotional decision, cracked a bunch of jokes, and then went on with our lives.

Today, I am editing an article about brain tumors. My father died of a brain tumor twelve years ago. I am emotional about the heads “case study 4”. What would my father have been like as a case study? Who was the person whose brain was analyzed in the case study? Did they have grieving children? Did they live? Did they have experiences like my father? Were they confused? In pain?

This is maybe the second time in my life I’ve been unable to separate the personal from the professional in a science article. Usually my science articles are dispassionate, technical, and the drama is all about my authors’ terrible tables, not about my damn father.

What puts you off your game?

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6 responses to “Science editing

  1. Right now? Not knowing what the indoor toilets of Iberian fortresses might have been called. Seriously—I need it for a single throwaway sentence and it’s bugging me to death.

    • Don’t librarians have the power to discover this kind of thing? On the other hand, you could just insert “XXXX” in true Indy style and move on with your life (by which I mean come back to it later).

      • I thought so, but while I’ve located books and other materials on the plumbing systems, architecture, art, politics, ethnic and religious practices, cultural tolerances, invasions, geography, climate, costumes, and naming traditions of Iberia from the 9th Century to the end of the ‘Christian Reclamation,’ in none of these works, studies, tourist mags, or flippin’ wiki articles is it ever mentioned what the ruling or military classes of the Caliphate called their guarderobes.

        (I did XXX it out at the time—that’s a great suggestion—but it’s still nagging at me, two chapters later)

  2. Sometimes what puts me off my game, puts me back on it again.

    Today I wanted to give up and put myself back to bed after watching parts two and four of the Abraham and Mary Lincoln series on PBS. All I could see was the personal side of the history that had to do with me and my family’s past. Then the germ of an idea slipped into my mind and moved me. I ran with it as any writer should.

    Writing it out didn’t make me feel better, but it felt better than retreat.

  3. Indy,
    I’m sorry that such a scientific thing is dredging up sad memories.

    In totally ridiculous news, my game of writing is put off by crafting, which has been put off by a leaking water heater, which is put off by my son’s ancestry project….oh my, I think a glass of wine will put me off all of it. The time has come to put the game back in the box for another day.

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