## Department of redundant solecisms department

A justly flabbergasted reader sent me a link to the web page at springer.com for H-Y Jeong et al. (Eds.), Advanced in Computer Science and its Applications, 2013. In return for $469 (paper) or$369 (ebook), you'll get a work whose publisher describes it as follows:

The theme of CSA is focused on the various aspects of computer science and its applications for advances in computer science and its applications and provides an opportunity for academic and industry professionals to discuss the latest issues and progress in the area of computer science and its applications. Therefore this book will be include the various theories and practical applications in computer science and its applications.

Springer Science+Business Media seems not be short of funds — according to a Bloomberg story dated 6/19/2013:

BC Partners Ltd., a London-based private-equity firm, agreed to buy German academic publisher Springer Science & Business Media GmbH for 3.3 billion euros ($4.4 billion) from EQT Partners AB and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. Between that 3.3 billion euro stake and the$469 cost per copy, you'd think that Springer would have a few euros to spend on a copy editor, if only for the publisher's blurb (which is also what's featured on the book's amazon.com page). It's true that this is a conference proceedings volume, whose editors are not native speakers of English. But still.

In case you think I'm making this up, here's a screenshot:

7. ### Ted said,

February 5, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

It would appear that this manuscript went to press without ever having been read by a person fluent in English.

8. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 12:34 am

They should recall the whole print run, pulp it, and start over. But wait! Browsing through the table of contents, I spot chapters like this:

"The Development of Convergent STEAM Program Focused on Rube Goldberg for Improvement of Engineer Career Awareness of Elementary School Students" by Yilip Kim and Namje Park (pp. 429ff.)

"An Intelligent e-Services Composition Platform for Ubiquitous Baby Care: The Case Study of Life and Commercial Support Services for Property Management" by Chih-Kun Ke, Yi-Jen Yeh, and Chiao-Min Chang (pp. 1411ff.)

"Development of Ontology for the Diseases of Spine" by Geun-Hye Kim and 13 other authors from South Korea (pp. 1171ff. [8 pages long -- nearly 2 authors per page])

"Detecting People Using Histogram of Oriented Gradients: A Step towards Abnormal Human Activity Detection" by Abdul-Lateef Yussiff, Suet-Peng Yong, and Baharum B. Baharudin (pp. 1145ff.)

Among the more than two hundred chapters (that's a quick guesstimate) in the two volumes, there are scores with titles like this.

From front cover to back, this book is simply surreal.

9. ### maidhc said,

February 6, 2014 @ 2:47 am

I think the theory that this is essentially a vanity publication is the most likely. These are papers that were turned down by better-known journals. I went to have a look at the one about "oriented gradients". Although I could only see the first two pages, and it hadn't really come to the point yet, it did seem as though it might be going somewhere worthwhile. So I set aside my first theory that this was some kind of experiment in automatic text generation.

In my limited experience with Springer, it's a publisher that would stoop pretty low in pursuit of a dollar. I don't think there's any expectation that anyone other than the authors would ever purchase a copy. They could use print-on-demand technology to run off author copies, then the authors have something to put on their office shelves and in their resumes.

If there are 300 authors and each one pays $469, Springer would get$140700 minus the cost of printing. No need to waste any money on editing.

[(myl) While there are certainly "spamferences", I don't think that this is one of them -- though I don't know anything about FTRA and have never attended one of the conferences that they organize, it would really be a scandal if Springer were publishing true spamference proceedings in its Lecture Notes in X series, which has traditionally been a prestigious (if overpriced) brand. WorldCat lists about 15 research libraries that own this publication, presumably because they buy everything Springer puts out in its "Lecture Notes" series; in my experience WorldCat listings are incomplete, so Springer probably sold more, especially e-copies under various blanket plans.

The reader who sent me this link has published in one of those Springer "Lecture Notes" series, and was horrified to be thereby associated with a publication presented as this one is.

For real technical conferences, it's wrong to think of them as publishing things that "better-known journals" have rejected -- rather, they're where real scientific and technical communication takes place these days, in many fields including computer science.]

10. ### GH said,

February 6, 2014 @ 6:29 am

I've been peripherally involved in some Computer Science-related conference proceedings published through Springer.

In many branches of CS, publication is mainly through conferences rather than journal articles. These conferences are often affiliated with one of the academic/industry associations (such as ACM or IEEE), in which case those organizations will generally take care of publishing the proceedings (mainly digitally, these days).

Conferences that are not thus affiliated usually contract out the printing of the proceedings to a publisher like Springer, where it falls under a series like "Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering". This is almost always done well before authors submit their final drafts, and usually before the Call For Papers is even issued, so Springer doesn't see the papers when they agree to publish the proceedings. The publisher does do some level of quality checking of the conference (things like verifying that it's a real conference, that papers are peer-reviewed, and what the target acceptance rate is); I'm not sure how rigorous this checking is or how high the standards required are.

In any case, once the arrangements have been made, the contents of the proceedings are entirely the responsibility of the conference organizers. As long as they stick to the Springer format, I doubt the publisher even looks at the text.

The conference itself does not systematically proofread or copy-edit the papers. (At least, no CS conferences I know of provide this service.) During the peer review, reviewers may point out misspellings and other errors of language, but this is highly variable from reviewer to reviewer, and there is usually no follow-up to verify that the authors made the suggested corrections.

As a result, incorrect and poor English is common in published CS papers, particularly when the authors are not native speakers. The general feeling in the community seems to be that this is very much a secondary concern when held against the research contribution and scientific rigor of the work.

[(myl) I'm not surprised to find poor English in the text of conference papers, or even journal articles. As you say, this is common and is not a serious detriment to communication. But a typo in the first word of the volume's title is a bit above and beyond, I think; and the main problem with the publisher's blurb is emptiness and incoherence, not poor English.

More seriously, the real question in a case of this type is what value Springer is really adding to justify the high price that it charges. As far as I can see, the answer is "essentially none". The obvious lack of editorial oversight in the preparation of this publication is just a symptom.

I don't mean to suggest that there was no editorial oversight in the selection of papers -- I have no idea what FTRA's standards are like for the CSA conferences, but many technical conferences are fairly selective, rejecting more papers than they accept. But conference reviewers and editors are volunteers who are not paid, and who are organized by the conference and not by Springer.]

11. ### James said,

February 6, 2014 @ 7:26 am

Geoff Pullum's The Great Eskimo Snow Vocabulary Hoax has a chapter called "Some lists of things about books". One of the lists is: titles that are not grammatical constituents. It is a great list. One of my favorites is, "A Tad Overweight, But Violet Eyes to Die For", just to give you the flavor, if you haven't read that collection. Anyway, this CSA book can officially join the list, but I don't think the other titles would be too happy about it.
If you have not read that book of Geoff's, you should, by the way.

12. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 7:41 am

I am involved with many major American academic presses, either as adviser or as series editor. I don't know about the social sciences, but in the humanities most of them have a policy of generally not accepting conference proceedings. They usually state that it is because of problems with quality and coherence. In the rare event that they do consider for publication a group of papers that were previously presented at an academic gathering, the press will subject them to an extremely rigorous process of review, editing, vetting, and proofreading.

13. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 7:51 am

@maidhc

I didn't take the time to examine or count them individually, but glancing over the table of contents, it appears that many of the papers have three or more authors. So the total number of authors who are potential (required?) purchasers of the volume could well be far greater than 300, meaning yet more profits for Springer.

Another possibility is that the organizers of the conference had a grant to pay for publication, and that this included cost of printing plus one volume to be given to each author gratis.

[(myl) The nature and role of conference proceedings in different fields is quite different. In fields like computer science, those who register for a conference generally get a copy of the proceedings (now mostly in digital form) as part of the registration package. And the proceedings are also often available online for free to members of the society that sponsored the coference, and sometimes to the public at large.

Also, as I noted above, conference proceedings are the main mode of technical communication in many subfields. It's misleading to generalize from the situation in the humanities, where (for example) books are still in many cases an important medium of communication. This is hardly ever true in the fields that we're dealing with here, where for the most part books are more or less a cultural ritual similar to the academic cap and gown, playing a merely ceremonial role.]

14. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 8:53 am

I just read quickly through the front matter preceding the table of contents and I see references to "high quality papers" that were "peer-reviewed". One workshop chair states that his section had an acceptance rate of only 44% and talks about a "rigorous peer-review process with three reviewers per paper." Other workshop organizers make similar claims.

Judging from their names and home institutions, among the hundreds of individuals involved in the organization of the conference (there are many pages missing from this part of the front matter available through Amazon), a criterion of selection for membership on the various committees would seem to have been that an individual not be a native speaker of English. The large number of authors listed in the table of contents seems to have a similar composition. There may have been a few native speakers of English involved with the conference and the volume, but they are not easy to spot.

This is a phenomenon that I have been noticing for the last few years with regard to new journals in a wide variety of science and even some social science fields — the near ubiquity of nonnative speakers among editors and authors. This is a sociolinguistic issue that has been puzzling me for a long time. It is not just this Springer volume. How can there be such a process of inclusion / exclusion that results in books and journals published in English and aiming for international stature having no (or next to no) native speakers of English?

15. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 9:01 am

There is one other short note that may be relevant to the composition of the authorship in the books and journals to which I was referring in my previous comment. Namely, I have many friends and acquaintances who are graduate students in the sciences from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, and so on. To obtain a Ph.D., they must publish several papers before graduation. Often they are working closely with a professor from their home country, and the latter feels a strong obligation to help his students get the requisite number of publications. The proliferation of books and journals of the sort I have described above may be partly a result of this compelling need to publish before the degree is granted.

16. ### J.W. Brewer said,

February 6, 2014 @ 9:31 am

Of the four listed editors, two have (or have adopted) Anglophone first names (Neil and James), which it seems ought to correlate with some level of English proficiency (or maybe just an aspiration in that direction?). As for the other two, I'm guessing one of them is the same http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_S._Obaidat who (although born in Jordan) received his Ph.D. from an American university, is currently on the faculty of another American university, and has for many years been the editor-in-chief of an Anglophone scholarly journal published by John Wiley & Sons. Perhaps it's better not to inquire as to what minimum level of English proficiency can be safely inferred from those CV items?

In the good old days a few centuries ago when scientists still did their scholarly publication in Latin (so that they could be understood across international borders) I wonder how good versus hilariously bad the quality of their Latin prose would have been thought by an actual resurrected L1 Latin speaker.

[(myl) I'm not sure that we can blame the editors of the publication for the title and publisher's blurb -- it's possible that those were created by some Springer employee, or by someone at FTRA (the organization behind the CSA conferences), without the advice or consent of the editors, who were presumably the program committee chairs.]

17. ### Eneri Rose said,

February 6, 2014 @ 10:20 am

"A Tad Overweight, But Violet Eyes to Die For" may be ungrammatical, but I still know it's about Liz!

18. ### Nathan said,

February 6, 2014 @ 10:47 am

The Queen has violet eyes?

19. ### Q. Pheevr said,

February 6, 2014 @ 10:47 am

Mark Liberman wrote, in response to a previous comment:

the main problem with the publisher's blurb is emptiness and incoherence, not poor English

…and I think this is something worth emphasizing. The prose in the blurb does not read like someone struggling to express themselves in a foreign language. There are two things it reminds me of:

1. Text inserted in Web pages for the purpose of search-engine optimization. Key words are repeated with minor variations, and the resulting prose is neither intended nor fit for human consumption.

2. An undergraduate or a high-school student trying to meet a specified word count in an essay on a topic about which they truly, fundamentally, do not give the minutest fraction of a flying fuck. The author has nothing to say about the topic, and no interest in learning about it, but has to fill up the page anyway.

Now, if I tried to write a brief blurb about the proceedings of a conference I actually cared about in, say, Vietnamese, I think I could do at least a little bit better than this (given a reasonable amount of time and access to standard reference resources), despite the fact that my current knowledge of Vietnamese does not extend beyond counting to four.* What I would manage to write would certainly not be good Vietnamese—it would probably contain all sorts of solecisms, malapropisms, and other errors—but it would at least sound as if I was actually trying to say something.

*I'm using Vietnamese in this hypothetical case just because the conference took place in Vietnam; judging by the names, none of the conference organizers or volume editors sound particularly likely to be native speakers of Vietnamese.

20. ### Greg Morrow said,

February 6, 2014 @ 10:56 am

No one seems to have noted it overtly, but it seems obvious that there was a global search-and-replace for "computer science" with "computer science and its applications", at least in that publisher blurb, and possibly in the title.

21. ### Marion said,

February 6, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Pity the poor copy-editor (when there is one). Here's a couple of paragraphs from two peer-reviewed papers by Chinese authors accepted by the editor for a special issue of a journal in computer science published by a highly reputable UK publisher:

“According to the fact of river health function, obtain primary index for brainstorming, then cluster and filtrate the indexes by cluster analysis and Delphi Method based filtration principles (independence, measurability and typicality) and related literature home and abroad. From the Point of system, application and operability, it establishes the river health system evaluation index system and defines evaluation grade in accordance with expert consultation and grade."

“And the former selects the appropriate value of the individual for being proportional to the probability of individual adaptation; the later is based on the ranking of individual in the population to select the appropriate individual. As for population replacement, the adoption of the program can be replaced by some individuals; it can be replaced by the entire group.”

The copy-editor (CE – not me in this case) does the best he can with this and the proof goes to the author, but whether the author understands the revision is very doubtful. CE suspects that all the papers for this particular special issue were translated from Chinese and converted into Latex by a third party. He warns the authors he has had to make a lot of changes, so they should carefully check that the paper now says what they meant it to say, but so far they have all said they’re happy and have made no further changes, which is suspicious in itself. In such instances, all that prevents the publication of gobbledegook is a conscientious copy-editor.

22. ### J. W. Brewer said,

February 6, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

I take myl's point that the "editors" may not be responsible for what Springer personnel (or someone) did for title and blurbing purposes. But presumably if they were organizing the conference they would have at least skimmed the titles and abstracts of the papers somewhere along the way, which would have been a perfect opportunity to note that many of those titles and abstracts are not grammatical, at least in the variety/ies of English used by L1 Anglophones publishing scholarly papers. So either their own English competence was not sufficient to notice the problem, or they didn't care enough to fix it.

Now, it's possible that the target audience for the publication (assuming it's not a *pure* vanity project limited only to friends and family of the authors) is largely comprised of other computer science researchers from various East Asian countries whose own English is a bit shaky but who are used to reading scholarly papers in English, including in the highly ESLish varieties of English they and their colleagues tend to write in. Maybe such an audience is perfectly capable of decoding what is meant and/or their level of partial comprehension would not be dramatically improved if the titles/abstracts (and presumably full text) were edited to make them more grammatical and thus less superficially jarring to L1 Anglophones.

Consider by way of loose parallel the difference between the sort of "Engrish" found in comically bad signage in the PRC whose presumed intended function is to communicate with Anglophone tourists and the different sort of "Engrish" found in surreal Japanese advertising copy etc. whose presumed intended function is to be effective with a local Japanese-speaking audience of consumers for whom English is a symbol of hipness or cultural cachet. That the latter genre may seem comical/bizarre/incomprehensible to an Anglophone tourist is a big so what, because that's not the intended audience.

23. ### Victor Mair said,

February 6, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

@Marion

Trying to turn prose like that into a passable thesis or dissertation is a herculean task. I've been through it many times.

24. ### Gunnar H said,

February 6, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

@myl: Yes, I agree that the blurb's vacuousness is the real problem here, and that it does not reflect well on the conference.

@Greg Morrow: Now that you mention it, it seems clear that something of this nature has produced the text as it currently stands. However, I wonder if it might not instead be a matter of having taken a generic template, and filling in "computer science and its applications" in every blank. I can imagine Springer supplying an example that read something like:

"The theme of [CONFERENCE NAME] is focused on the various aspects of [SUBJECT] for advances in [TOPIC], and provides an opportunity for academic and industry professionals to discuss the latest issues and progress in the area of [AREA]. Therefore this book will be [about] / include the various theories and practical applications in [SUBJECT]."

@Victor Mair: For the proceedings of a moderately large conference, 200 chapters (each representing a paper or note presented there) is not an unreasonable number. The titles you mention also sound perfectly legit to me. Fourteen authors is a lot, but it does not mean, of course, that they all wrote the paper together.

@James: Interestingly, the dialog in the Doonesbury strip that gives that book its title is more grammatically regular:

- I'm not wild about film people. But Liz Taylor, well…

– Thrilling, isn't it? Wait until you see her! She's…

– We know. "A tad overweight, but with violet eyes to die for."

(Though I wonder if one could get away with omitting the "with" and interpreting "She's" variously as "She is" and "She has" for each part of the sentence.)

25. ### Joe said,

February 6, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

The "computational intelligence" and recursive aspects of this indicates that Skynet has become self-aware and has decided to write a book.

26. ### Ben Hemmens said,

February 6, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

Interesting cover design … very reminiscent of the UTB Reihe, which is a partnetship of 16 other publishers based in the German-speaking countries. Nice guys, Springer.

27. ### David Eddyshaw said,

February 6, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

I'm just this minute looking at a (pricey) linguistic work published by Brill, whose author it is reasonable not to name, in English erratic enough that Brill cannot possibly have run it past a native English speaker. Not the only example of such things by any means.

I think part of the trouble is that works which not too long ago would have been published in perfectly good German (say) are now brought out by publishers in English. I imagine this is partly in the hope of better sales, and partly bowing to the inevitably increasing inability of Anglophone students to manage any foreign languages adequately.

Unfortunately many of the authors, editors and publishers involved speak good enough English to be unaware that they are not quite up to speed to make a proper English publication – good enough to be overconfident of their powers.

28. ### Sili said,

February 6, 2014 @ 4:01 pm