Stupid message sequencing discourtesy

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Picture this: that you receive two unexpected emails from me in quick succession. The first is a boilerplate pre-packaged message informing you that I have entered your address on my website as my temporary address for two or three days later this month, and I have let my employers know that people can call me or fax me at your house. I'm a complete stranger to you, except that you know my name from Language Log; I have obtained your email address from public sources, and pre-emptively set up arrangements to that assume I'll be staying with you.

The second of the two emails is personally addressed, and says that I'll be in your area later this month to give a lecture, and since I'm on a tight budget, would it be all right if I came to stay for two nights?

I take it you'd be somewhere between insulted and shocked, despite the fact that it is sort of flattering that a famous Language Log writer has singled you out as a person he would like to stay with. Well the equivalent not only happened to me today; it happens to me every couple of months.

Out of the blue comes an email telling me that my name has been added to a database of manuscript referees — academics who can be called upon to supply donated time reviewing papers submitted for publication. Then shortly after that comes a personal message from an editor (often a total stranger to me), asking me if I'd be so kind as to do a favor by reviewing a manuscript that has been submitted on some topic that I know about.

Every time my involuntary reaction is the same: repulsion, even anger, at the sheer rudeness of it. Despite the fact that a famous journal has singled me out as an expert they would like an opinion from.

Here's the latest example, with journal, location, and editor's name disguised to protect the not-particularly innocent. First, message number 1:

From onbehalfof+xxxxxx.wwwww.yyyy.zz@manuscriptcentral.com Sat Mar 20 07:26:27 2010
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2010 03:26:20 -0400 (EDT)
From: xxxxxx@wwwww.yyyy.zz
Subject: Journal of Wwwww – Account Created in Manuscript Central

20-Mar-2010

Dear Professor Geoffrey Pullum:

Welcome to Journal of Wwwww – Manuscript Central site for online manuscript submission and review. Your name has been added to our reviewer database in the hopes that you will be willing and able to review manuscripts for the Journal which fall within your area of expertise.

The site URL and your USER ID for your account is as follows…

When you log in for the first time, you will be asked to complete your full postal address, telephone, and fax number. You will also be asked to select a number of keywords describing your particular area(s) of expertise…

And now for message number 2:

From onbehalfof+xxxxxx.wwwww.yyyy.zz@manuscriptcentral.com Sat Mar 20 07:27:26 2010
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2010 03:27:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: xxxxxx@wwwww.yyyy.zz
Subject: Journal of Wwwww – Invitation to Review Manuscript ID JWWW-2010-0041

20-Mar-2010

Dear Geoff (if I may):

The above manuscript, entitled "On the snrdpql vbrh of frueqbd sjhdpbc" has been submitted to Journal of Wwwww.

We would be grateful if you would kindly agree to act as a reviewer for this paper. The abstract appears at the end of this letter…

Notice that the first message was sent off 59 seconds before the second.

The culprit is not necessarily the well-meaning editor Professor Xxxxxx, who I have heard of but not met, or any of the staff of the Journal of Wwwww, which I have seen but am not antecedently involved with. Quite probably it is a suite of standard editorial software, owned by the huge Thomson Reuters global publishing empire, once called Manuscript Central and apparently now renamed ScholarOne Manuscripts. It is "the proven industry leader" in editorial discourtesy, designed as

an innovative, web-based, submission and peer review workflow solution for scholarly publishers. Easy-to-configure, it allows for streamlined administrative, editing and reviewing capabilities.

ScholarOne serves more than 365 societies and publishers, over 3,400 books and journals, and 13 million registered users.

ScholarOne Manuscripts reduces time to decision, eliminates paper distribution costs, decreases administrative overhead and increases submissions.

So there are 13 million of us exploited reviewers! And in almost all cases, it seems, we were first informed that we had been press-ganged and entered into naval personnel records and issued with a sailor's uniform, and only then, a minute later, politely asked by the captain of the ship if we would be prepared to serve the navy as an ordinary seaman for zero pay. If hardly anyone else in academia has ever been offended by this, then I guess there must be way over 12.99 million people out there who are much more tolerant than I am.

All the software would have to do is to ensure that the default behavior is to send the polite request first, and send out the login name and password only later, after receiving a reply. That wouldn't seem presumptuous and annoying at all. I'm prepared to believe that it just might have been Professor Xxxxxx's fault: he could have had two tasks to execute and pressed the buttons in the wrong order. The reason I suspect the software design is that this has been done to me so often: the defaults must be such that this is the behavior resulting from the most natural way of using the program.

How could anyone design software with defaults so stupid? How could anyone (let alone a linguist) not notice this gross violation of polite discourse? You don't tell someone first that you have already been put in the database and given an account name and assigned some password that they didn't choose, and append a whole lot of terse instructions about what their duties will be in their new non-paying job, and then ask them to agree to do this favor!

So my policy now (since I really have too much to do, and some things have to go) is that I refuse refereeing requests when they arrive in this way. And from now on I will do it by sending the editor a link to this post. I'm sorry if this makes me seem unpleasantly grouchy, but I find these you-have-been-added messages unpleasantly rude. There may be 13 million people out there who tolerate this kind of discourtesy, but they aren't going to include me.

[If you would like to comment below, please do so. Notice that if you have never commented before, you have not already been entered into our database of commenters, and you will choose your own identifying name and supply your email address. (Don't forget that email address, because I may need to get in touch about coming to stay with you for a few days.)]

Added two days later:

For those of you whose reaction is "Oh, what's the big deal, why not just ignore the email?", let me say that (as I expected) I have now had further unwanted correspondence:

From onbehalfof+xxxxxx.wwwww.yyyy.zz@manuscriptcentral.com Sat Mar 20 07:26:27 2010
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2010 03:26:20 -0400 (EDT)
From: xxxxxx@wwwww.yyyy.zz
Subject: Reminder: Manuscript ID JWWW-2010-0041

20-Mar-2010

Dear Professor Geoffrey Pullum:

Recently, we invited you to review the above manuscript, entitled "On the snrdpql vbrh of frueoabd sjhdpbc." we have yet to hear from you about this.

This e-mail requests that you respond to the invitation to review. We very much appreciate your help in accomplishing our goal of having an expedited reviewing process. Thank you for your time and trouble.

Agreed: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/wwww?URL_MASK=3D5h78kQ359x64RHR22Z4

Declined: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/wwww?URL_MASK=3DFc8jFQ2H8cf3RX5bJ

Unavailable: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/wwww?URL_MASK=3DrTSkNBQ6h34q8h

I will now get emails for the rest of my life bugging me about a job I was never even asked if I would consider taking on. It's like a collection agency starting to bug you about an unpaid bill for a purchase you were never even invited to make. Sigh.

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52 Comments »

  1. Sili said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    I may need to get in touch about coming to stay with you for a few days.

    I was actually gonna volunteer, but it's good of you to have read my mind. Would you mind giving a day's or so notice? Unless of course you enjoy sleeping with the dustbunnies.

    I'm sorry if this makes me seem unpleasantly grouchy

    I'm not sure you're sorry at all. The which I wholly approve of. </flatter>

  2. Victoria said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 10:26 am

    Good for you! Hopefully, one of the senders will think to complain to Thomson Reuters about the default, and they will correct it. I certainly do not find you unpleasantly grouchy. Too much insulting behaviors persist in this era of increased technology because people seem to have forgotten how to think situations through to a polite conclusion. Thank you for my opportunity to rant.

    [Victoria, I like you. I may actually come to stay for a few days. —GKP]

  3. Luis said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    When I used to be an editorial assistant (among other things) I always suppressed the first message (at least in Elsevier's system, there is an option to do that) for precisely this reason.

  4. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    Well, the initial e-mail does say, "Your name has been added to our reviewer database in the hopes that you will be willing and able to review manuscripts for the Journal which fall within your area of expertise" (emphasis mine). So it's more like if I received a boilerplate pre-packaged message informing me that I've been added to your Rolodex, filed under "Language Log fans that Dr. Pullum would like to impose upon if they're willing", followed by a conciliatory e-mail asking if you can impose upon me. It's definitely the wrong order to do things in, but it's not quite so bad as you make it out to be.

  5. Mr Fnortner said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    Dr. Pullum, the red carpet is out, and we can go fishing. Just allow me 24 hours to stock the fridge and mollify the missus.

    P.S.-Your indignation is not unjustified.

  6. Jonathan Badger said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    I guess I don't understand the problem with this. Presumably the editor who wanted to use you as a reviewer needed to add you to the system in order for the automated reviewer request system to work, and this was required before you agreed to review the paper because the very system that sends out the review invitation needed you to already be in the database. [Yes! It's the design of the software. You're almost getting it. —GKP]

    I would understand your irritation if the system automatically made you agree to review the paper (even I, much less well known in my field than you are in yours, get more review requests than I can accept), but this wasn't the case. Although I question the *need* for the first e-mail. Why do you need to know that you have been added to a reviewer database? That's just a technical issue. All researchers are part of the set of potential peer reviewers as part of our duty. [Exactly! You've got it. It's nerdview to imagine that I need to know I'm in its database. (I will need a login ID and password, of course; but they should come after I've agreed.) —GKP]

  7. Stephen Nicholson said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    It's seems really presumptuous to add someone to a computer database prior to them agreeing to participate. The editor obviously has your email, they could send you an email asking prior to your being added.

    The only thing I can think of is that it's so common for people to say yes to theses requests that the most time saving way to do it is to add people to the data base first, send them the email requesting their participation, that way everything is done at once rather than having to wait until you get a yes to add them. [Except: why does it need to tell them they are already presupposed to have agreed, and start giving them instructions? —GKP]

  8. Thomas Westgard said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    There's often a disconnect between the marketing function and the substantive function. I once got a spam email from an internet marketing firm that listed testimonials from clients. So I forwarded the spam email to the listed clients. Two responded, one apologizing and saying they would no longer work with him, the other got him on a conference call with me and made him apologize.

    You could probably tweak the disparity here in a similar way – the publisher is exploiting both the good will of the author and of the reviewer. You could contact the author directly with your perspective and ask them to go back up the chain from their side. To be even more effective, you could add all of the spammers to your database of spammers and insist that they all read all of your complaint emails until the practice stops entirely.

  9. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    Nice story, Thomas! And let me say that I have tried to contact Thomson Reuters to tell them how their editorial spamware is misprogrammed. The result, so far, is:

    From ts.gcssupport@thomson.com Sat Mar 20 13:37:36 2010
    Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2010 13:37:26 +0000 (GMT)
    From: TS Global Customer Support
    Subject: Thomson Reuters Technical Support Case: TS-00230316 ref:00D3un.5007BS8VL:ref: ScholarOne Manuscript discourtesy

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Thank you for sending your request to Thomson Reuters Technical Support.

    A support case: TS-00230316 has been opened with the information you provided. You should receive a response to your inquiry within one to two business days. If you require an urgent response, please contact us during business hours at the phone number listed below.

    Please use your case number:TS-00230316 for future reference about this inquiry. Do not modify or remove the case number or case reference id from the subject line of any emails regarding this issue.

    ***NOTE: This is an auto-acknowledgement confirming the receipt of your message. Please do not reply to this email.***

    Sincerely,
    Global Customer Support
    Scientific
    Thomson Reuters

    We'll see what happens in a couple of days.

  10. Stephen Nicholson said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Good question. Not knowing how the software works (having never used it) I can't see a reason why it sends the automated email after having a reviewer added.

    Something just occurred to me: who writes the automated message? Is it a default from Thomson, or did someone at the journal write it? The automated email seems to be written with the knowledge that you haven't agreed yet, given the phrase "in the hopes that you will be willing." If Thomson wrote it, then that would suggest that they are aware of the way the software is typically used.

  11. Bobbie said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    My dentist's office used to have billing procedures like this! After an appointment, the first letter I received would be a notice that my bill was overdue and I had to pay immediately. Then a few days later I would finally receive the bill. I called them to complain. Result– they revamped the system and eliminated the nasty letter. Of course, my dentist didn't have 13 million patients……

  12. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    "It's nerdview to imagine that I need to know I'm in its database"

    Actually, I suspect they're legally required to tell you. If I remember correctly, under the Data Protection Act of 1998, you have a legal right to know if an institution holds records on you, what records they hold, and to amend them if they are incorrect.

    Of course, the system may not be bound by UK law.

    –IP

    [This is an interesting possibility that had not occurred to me, despite the fact that the Data Protection Law has had untold crazy consequences for universities (for example, kiss goodbye to the tradition of letting students pick up their papers or homeworks from a box outside your door — illegal in the UK!). But I will say this: if there is a law that no one can compile a simple list containing my name and email address without informing me that they have done it, the number of lawbreakers in this world must surely eclipse the 13 million users of ScholarOne Manuscript many times over. —GKP]

  13. Jens Fiederer said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    This post is not only going to vent your displeasure, it is destined to save you thousands of dollars in hotel bills!

    [Am I the only one who thinks this comment makes it sound like Jens has a guest bedroom? Could be useful. I'll enter his details into my list of possible people I can freeload off of. Unless the Data Protection Act forbids me to make such a list, of course... —GKP]

  14. Charles Belov said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    In my opinion, the first e-mail is the correct one to send, but needs to be worded *much* differently. The second e-mail would only be sent if you responded to the first e-mail. There is also a need for a 1.5th e-mail.

    Here is a better wording for the first e-mail:

    ——

    Dear Professor Geoffrey Pullum:

    The Journal of Wwwww – Manuscript Central site would like to invite you to become one of our reviewers. We hope you would be willing and able to review manuscripts for the Journal which fall within your area of expertise.

    [Link 1]Accept this invitation[end link 1] Clicking this link will record you as having opted in, and will allow us to send you:
    - login information
    - individual requests to review specific papers.

    [Link 2]Decline this invitation[end link 2] Clicking this link will record you as having opted out. We will not send you further e-mails concerning reviewing papers.

    In order to extend this invitation, your e-mail address has been added to our reviewer database. If you choose to decline, we will need to maintain your decline request on the database to ensure that we do not add you again. Your name will not show up to other reviewers as being on our reviewer list until and unless you accept this invitation.

    —–

    The 1.5th e-mail would welcome you as a reviewer and provide the login information.

    The second e-mail would be the actual e-mail that you received as the second e-mail.

    Hope this helps.

    [So what do y'all think about this? Is Charles Belov a world-class genius at design of editorial procedures? Or is this just plain common sense that any normal person would have come up with if there had been five minutes of discussion about the sequence of emails to be sent to new referees? Either way, he has my vote to sit on the board of directors of ScholarOne Manuscript. —GKP]

  15. Charles Belov said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    Actually, the reason that the second e-mail you received would not make a good first e-mail is that you might be open to reviewing papers, just not this particular paper. Conversely, you might not be open to reviewing any papers, yet they might continue to send you requests to review papers.

  16. D.O. said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    ScholarOne serves more than 365 societies and publishers, over 3,400 books and journals, and 13 million registered users.

    Maybe it's 13M authors not 13M reviewers? [Neither seems plausible, does it? There's a bunch of scientists writing and reviewing papers in this world, but 13 million? Way bigger than the population of Greece or Belgium or Portugal? —GKP]
    Also, "Dear Professor Geoffrey Pullum" is that right? Should it be "Dear Professor Pullum" or "Dear Geoffrey Pullum", but not altogether? [You're right, it's not idiomatic. A native speaker would write "Dear Professor Pullum" if they didn't know me or "Dear Geoffrey" if they didn't know me but wanted to sound like they did, and anyone who actually knew me would write "Dear Geoff"; but what this program chooses sounds like it was composed by a visitor from another galaxy. —GKP]

  17. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

    I think historically it would have been either 'Dear Professor Pullum' or 'Dear Geoffrey' – I remember reading something by Evelyn Waugh complaining about people who write to him as 'Dear Evelyn Waugh'. Once 'Dear Geoffrey Pullum' is accepted, I don't see any problem with including the title as well.

  18. rhhardin said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

    A preliminary message about something neutral like the weather would be good.

    [Yeah. It's still pretty chilly here. You? —GKP]

  19. Dan T. said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

    One problem with addressing people by title instead of first and last name is that you don't always know the proper title. "Ms." was devised to avoid the issue of having to choose between "Mrs." and "Miss", but somebody unfamiliar with Evelyn Waugh's actual gender might embarrass themselves by addressing "Dear Ms. Waugh" instead of "Mr.". Not to mention being uncertain in some cases about whether some more specific honorific like "Dr." or "Prof." or "Rev." or "Rabbi" applies.

  20. Bruce M said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 3:50 am

    @ Dan T.

    In the early '90s I worked on a large data migration in an Australian government department and one of my colleagues on a related project made some very late, unreviewed and untested, changes to some program code. The result? Thousands of Australian women became Bishops. The mistake wasn't discovered until after a bulk mailing.

  21. peter said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 4:16 am

    Dan T. said (March 20, 2010 @ 9:56 pm)

    " "Ms." was devised to avoid the issue of having to choose between "Mrs." and "Miss", "

    I do not believe this is correct. Although using "Ms" enables the writer to avoid choosing betweeen "Mrs" or "Miss", that was not the reason for its introduction. It was devised and promoted to eliminate the sexism inherent in the prior standard forms of address – those for women identified their marital status, while that for men did not.

  22. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 7:41 am

    This is an interesting possibility that had not occurred to me, despite the fact that the Data Protection Law has had untold crazy consequences for universities (for example, kiss goodbye to the tradition of letting students pick up their papers or homeworks from a box outside your door — illegal in the UK!).

    I seriously doubt it that it is even remotely illegal to collect homework from faculty. Or if it is, it's it would surely be just as illegal to collect homework from a box in a teaching office. Or to collect your exam mark from a list posted on a bulletin board. Yet those things are common practice at many (most?) UK universities. I think the practice of not putting homeworks in a box outside your door is due to individual universities' marking systems. Many UK universities now prefer work to be handed in and collected from a course secretary to ensure consistency in extensions and other individual arrangements, and to facilitate blind assessment policies (also not required by law, but by individual universities, but they are very good academic practice.).

    What is certainly the case is that when a particular system is common practice and someone wants to change it, the two most commonly invoked types of legislation to veto the change are Data Protection and Health & Safety. Such invocations are almost 100% rubbish, and almost invariably, the person doing it has not bothered to read the act they are quoting. It is a filthy and disgusting habit to quote or cite legislation you have not read, and people who engage in the practice should, in my *humble* opinion, be locked in a dungeon room with nothing but proofs by induction for sustenance. And may that be a lesson to them.

    But I will say this: if there is a law that no one can compile a simple list containing my name and email address without informing me that they have done it, the number of lawbreakers in this world must surely eclipse the 13 million users of ScholarOne Manuscript many times over.

    If I remember correctly, the DPA is an institutional duty, not an individual one. It doesn't apply to individuals keeping Christmas card lists, for example. I does apply to companies, however, which is why you have to remember to tick/not tick those annoying boxes every time you fill in a form for a company, telling them you do not want any more spam. There are some default overrides — companies you have used in the past are allowed to keep your records on file, I think.

    It's been a good 6 or 7 years since I read the text of the Act, as it's pretty tedious, but it's googlable, if you're curious.

    –IP

  23. language hat said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    I am mildly pleased to learn that Thomson Reuters has actually responded; I will be amazed if they manage to resolve this in a way that is satisfactory to you (and all others who don't like uninvited impositions), but please do keep us posted.

    And I am eager to read "On the snrdpql vbrh of frueqbd sjhdpbc"; I suspect it may revolutionize the field.

  24. peter said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    "I seriously doubt it that it is even remotely illegal to collect homework from faculty. Or if it is, it's it would surely be just as illegal to collect homework from a box in a teaching office. Or to collect your exam mark from a list posted on a bulletin board."

    The UK Data Protection Act makes it illegal to reveal information held in a database about one person to a second person without the prior permission of the first. Leaving marked assignments in a box for students to collect would allow students (and others) to see each other's marks, and is thus illegal. Likewise, publicly listing results on noticeboards would also do so, unless the data items are anonymized in some way. Those British universities which still publicly list exam results on noticeboards usually do so by listing the results against ID numbers, not names, and assign ID numbers to students in a manner which makes it difficult or impossible to infer student names from knowledge only of their IDs.

    For the benefit of sceptical foreign readers of this blog, there no doubt are still British universities which have yet to consider all the fine implications of the Data Protection laws and the Health and Safety regulations, but they are vanishingly few in my experience. My own university requires me to read a lengthy statement to any visitors I have to campus, pointing out potential dangers to their person, the potential safety precautions they are recommended by the university authorities to take, and the complete denial of any responsibility by the University for any untoward consequences that may occur to them during their visit. The safety precautions I am required to point out include the presence of balustrades and hand-rails on staircases, which visitors are explicity recommended to use whenever they have need to use a staircase. Sadly, I do not jest.

  25. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    I see that a couple of comments have picked up on the phrase …in the hopes that you will be willing and able…. At first I thought that the plural hopes was a symptom of borderline illiteracy, but now I've come to the conclusion that actually two distinct hopes are involved — the hope of willingness and the hope of ability.

    I wonder whether I'm being too charitable. My grandmother used to say that there's always something nice you can say to someone. For instance, "You sweat less than any other fat girl I've ever danced with."

  26. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    @Dan Lufkin: To me "in the hopes that" sounds pretty O.K., though "in hopes that" might be better. (Compare "high hopes".)

  27. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    The UK Data Protection Act makes it illegal to reveal information held in a database about one person to a second person without the prior permission of the first. Leaving marked assignments in a box for students to collect would allow students (and others) to see each other's marks, and is thus illegal. Likewise, publicly listing results on noticeboards would also do so, unless the data items are anonymized in some way.

    Precisely. The DPA does *not* ban leaving assignments in a box for students to collect. What it bans, as Peter points out rather more clearly than I did, is disclosing of information in certain circumstances. Which means leaving assignments in a box is fine as long as they are anonymised. Indeed, if they are anonymised, leaving them in a box is more or less isomorphic to having students collect the assignments by any other common-practice system.

    For the benefit of sceptical foreign readers of this blog, there no doubt are still British universities which have yet to consider all the fine implications of the Data Protection laws and the Health and Safety regulations, but they are vanishingly few in my experience.

    Well, the problem is that the regulations are notoriously vague, especially Health & Safety. So much of the ridiculousness done in the name of H&S is not in fact legally required, but only required by institutions who are being slightly over-concerned about all the wrong aspects of actual safety and well-being, and under-concerned about all the right ones.

    –IP

  28. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    "You sweat less than any other fat girl I've ever danced with."

    Not fat-hating and sexist at all!

    –IP

  29. language hat said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Not fat-hating and sexist at all!

    I think you missed the point of the joke.

  30. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    No, I got it. I think you missed my point, though.

    –IP

  31. Stephen Jones said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

    The UK Data Protection Act makes it illegal to reveal information held in a database about one person to a second person without the prior permission of the first.

    Can we have a link to the exact wording of the law please. Your interpretation would make it impossible to publish a classlist, or timetable, as the sections and rooms are contained in the database.

  32. IrrationalPoint said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    The Data Protection Act of 1998:
    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/ukpga_19980029_en_1

    –IP

  33. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

    There is a straightforward reason for not leaving assignments in a box, which has nothing to do with the law or anonymity; some of them are liable to be stolen.

  34. Keith Allan said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    Having provoked GKP’s initial blog I feel obligated to add a few words here (some of which I have already communicated directly to GKP).

    First of all I sincerely regret that my conduct should appear discourteous and therefore humbly apologize to Geoffrey Pullum and to anyone else whom I have unintentionally offended. The worst problem faced by any journal editor (in whatever field) is finding reviewers for papers submitted to the journal: one is uncomfortably aware of asking a potential reviewer to spend time they almost certainly cannot spare to read a paper that is too often of doubtful quality. No journal editor can afford to alienate a potential reviewer.

    It seems to be the sequencing of emails that upsets many among you, not least GKP. It does not match my practice before the online submission system was instituted (about nine months ago); in those days I solicited a willingness to review on the basis of an abstract. The online system operates from a reviewer database and no review can be sought without recourse to that data base. I like Charles Belov’s proposal for an invitation to join the reviewer database that allows for opting in or out before a username and password are supplied, and I will see whether it can be instituted for AJL (I can’t see why not) . Thanks CB. I’ll also see about getting the mode of address changed in the database invitation; it’s not what I would normally use but it is quite common among publishers.

    In conclusion, I once again sincerely apologize to all who have been offended by the style of approach used by AJL. I’ll see what can be done to change things on my patch in ScholarOne.

  35. Graeme said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 4:31 am

    Geoff, you are welcome to our floor if you are ever in Brisbane Australia, though I may ask you to referee some law review articles in return.

    I'm still flattered, after all this time, to be asked to review manuscripts that I'd not take offence at the database, so much as I'm irked at how much publishers now expect you to become familiar with their idiosyncratic, labyrinthine manuscript repository and review systems. Which inhibits the open, friendly exchange between reviewer and referee directly.

  36. Liz Peña said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 9:20 am

    Do note that it's not really 13 million reviewers. It's probably more like 1 million reviewers for 13 different journals in their system. Another pet peeve regarding Scholar One.

  37. Emily Lauren said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    I've never posted before, but I've been a happy reader for a few years. Your posts delight me (I've no linguistic training, so I'm honestly just here for the 233678 words for snow and dissing of Elements of Style.)
    If you're ever in the Cleveland, Ohio area and need a place to stay, you are more than welcome at my place – you'll have fresh sheets and good food.

  38. Terry Collmann said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    somebody unfamiliar with Evelyn Waugh's actual gender might embarrass themselves by addressing "Dear Ms. Waugh" instead of "Mr."

    This would not have been a problem for the two years Waugh was married to his first wife, also called Evelyn …

  39. language hat said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    At my high school there was a young English teacher who didn't realize George Eliot was a woman. True story. (My younger brother explained the facts of the case to him.)

  40. Nathan Myers said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

    Please allow me to pile on and extend an open invitation to all members of the distinguished LL staff.

  41. James Wimberley said,

    March 22, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

    GKP: ¨..somewhere between insulted and shocked…¨ In what linguistic space is there a between here on which to unrol your Language Log Distinguished Professor crashpad sleeping mat? BTW, you would be welcome as long as you remember to feed the piranhas.

  42. Charles Belov said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 2:15 am

    Thank you for your kind words about my design skills. This is the first blog comment I've ever done that I could consider using on my resumé. Alas, I will have to decline the board nomination due to other commitments.

  43. Stephen Jones said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    Irattional point

    You've not given me the link that says all data on a database requires permission before it is given to others, or that it applies to distribution within the premises of the owner of the database.

  44. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    "On the snrdpql vbrh of frueqbd sjhdpbc"
    I think I've read that.

    It wasn't very good

  45. David Walker said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

    @Keith Allan: "The worst problem faced by any journal editor (in whatever field) is finding reviewers for papers submitted to the journal".

    So, your solution is to spam people who you find by whatever means, such as people who have blogs on language. (This is Spam by most definitions: it is unsolocited commercial e-mail. Certainly unsolicited, and certainly commercial since Thomson is a for-profit company.)

    The resolution to any "problem", including the one you describe, is not to resort to spam. We're sorry that you are faced with this problem, but spamming people is not the way to fix it. I recommend that you find another way to solve youre "problem".

  46. David Walker said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    Ack! Two typos in my last post. Oh well.

  47. Simon Musgrave said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

    @David Walker

    Your comment is a gratuitous insult to journal editors. I would come to their defence anyway, but in this case I will leap to the task as Keith is my respected colleague. No journal editor I know seeks reviews on an arbitrary basis, which is what is implied by your comment – in most cases they expend a good deal of time and mental energy in trying to achieve the best possible fit between a submitted article and the scholars they approach to review it, and in doing so they act in the best interests of their journal, of their discipline, and of the author.

  48. Keith Allan said,

    March 24, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    My thanks to Simon Musgrave for his measured words. No editor spams potential reviewers because it would not be feasible. I suggest that David Walker learn the meaning of "spam". I note that he has no constructive proposal for discovering potential reviewers for articles submitted to a journal; unsolicited contact with a potential reviewer is often inescapable.

    Furthermore the Australian Journal of Linguistics is not primarily a commercial enterprise; it is largely funded by members of the Australian Linguistic Society. The editor is, and always has been, unpaid. I suspect the same is true for many academic journals.

  49. Keith Alan McGuinness said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 12:13 am

    Keith Allan: "I note that he has no constructive proposal for discovering potential reviewers for articles submitted to a journal; unsolicited contact with a potential reviewer is often inescapable."

    Keith Allan (no relation) is, of course, correct.

    On the other hand, the automated systems now used by most journals are frequently just plain irritating. Like GKP, I have received details of procedures which I do not require because I have no intention of reviewing the paper which, sometime later, I am invited to examine. I have experienced the situation of being "reminded" to submit my review on time, when I declined the invitation shortly after arrived in my inbox.

    Note to editors: these events do not endear you to the people you are, as is widely known, inviting to give you some of their time for free.

  50. David Walker said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    I stand by my comment that the e-mail was unsolicited (based on Geoff's description of the events), and that the e-mail came from a commercial enterprise. (I'll bet Thomson makes money on the journal somehow, even if its staff is not paid and it's not "primarlily" a commercial enterprise. Printed ads?) I see that a yearly individual subscription for 4 issues costs $194, so it's not a charity.

    Spam is another term for UCE (unsolicited commercial e-mail). If this is the way journal reviewers are actually found in the wild, then I apologize.

  51. Keith McGuinness said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    "Spam is another term for UCE (unsolicited commercial e-mail). If this is the way journal reviewers are actually found in the wild, then I apologize."

    It is, to me, not the fact that it is unsolicited that is the problem. Most "requests to review" I receive are unsolicited. It is that the nature of the solicitation is intrusive. In some cases, I have had to log on to a website to decline and invitation and then got follow up reminders about needing to complete my (declined) review. That is a pain in the proverbial and, in all honesty, I do not look favourably on requests that involve this process.

  52. oliver said,

    March 29, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    The offending e-mailers must have at least contemplated sending a request and awaiting an answer before mailing again and might well have tried to conduct their business this way. University professors in particular have a reputation for ignoring and/or taking impracticably long to reply to requests for their time and attention. This doesn't justify rudeness, preemptive or otherwise, but administratively it could verge on a necessity for journals and other organizations to assume you will agree to their plan unless you specify otherwise. Doing so strikes me as audacious only to the extent you haven't published in the journal or expressly agreed in the abstract to serve as a referee, and/or to the extent the journal is unimportant to your field. The NIH and other awarders of big grants for research often do the same in summoning people to peer-review applications–or so I thought.

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