Friday, August 21, 2009

Yes, I admit, another rant.

Being a co-author on a book chapter is not supposed to make one cringe.


A colleague has given me this chapter to correct the english before sending it in, and it's quite a job. I'm accustomed to all sorts of levels of mastery of the Bard's tongue, and I've seen far worse.

(I think the very worst was a case where a student wrote their paper in french with no idea of how to write a paper; she just tossed out a long disorganized mishmash of speculation, irrelevant details, hollow generalizations and unsupported conclusions, then used a cheapo computer program to translate. The computer picked words out of a dictionary based on their frequency of use, with no account of context. It couldn't tell a noun from a verb sometimes. The result was a treat, I assure you. I didn't wail and moan at the student - it's perfectly normal for a student's first manuscript to be utterly naive in the ways of writing science, but this had been passed to me by her boss, who apparently had not read it but considered it ready for submission.)

Grammar is grammar; you just fix it. Don't you? Let me think about that comma. Scientific texts are clear. Nuanced, yes, but english is a very precise language and we get where we're going. There's a reason English has far more words than other languages. With two or three or four duplicates, you can really split some hairs.

Normally, the content is not my business. The author wants to say what? No skin off my nose. I just try to make the saying of it correct and readable. This time I have to care about content. It would help to have some context, too. Is the whole book about hypnotism? cancer? alternative medicine in general? Who will be reading it?

This text is all about the role of hypnosis in cancer patient care and the application of 'hard science' statistical techniques and measured parameters with nice solid numbers attached to 'psychosocial interventions', and it's requiring a fair amount of belief in the truth of what's being said. Things that don't belong in a scientific paper usually litter the floor when I'm done with a text, and here I'm having such trouble swallowing the legitimacy of what's being said that it's difficult to resist and not write rebuttals every third line or turn the thing into a paper snowflake.

I'm trying. I'm sticking with it. It is, after all, something I'm definitely in favor of, this application of rigorous methods to a traditionally fuzzy subject. And I'm truly interested in the results, too. If you can help somebody live longer and more comfortably by teaching relaxation techniques, by all means! Hypnotism can get your sleep schedule back on track, thus boosting your immune system and making you less crabby to boot? Go for it! Just keep the snake-oil salespeople outside. Well, unless believing in snake oil is what floats your boat, er, boosts your endorphins.

So okay with the subject matter. I'm just going to wail and moan and tear my hair out over diction and syntax and that french way of dancing around the point so long the author just skips it and goes on (the point? it's that hole there in the middle of the paragraph...) for the next week or so. And while I'm at it, since I am an author and not just a correcter, I'll be putting my centimes in two by two and keeping us to the discernable facts.

It's a shame Strunk and White never caught on in France.



Butler and Bagman said...

You describe the editing process with such flair and humor...and accuracy!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Wow! In this context language and all it's support systems need and to be so precise and comprehensible.The exact opposite of next weeks 5 minute sprawl!I'm intrigued as to what you will come out with? :) A plus tard.

DDHA said...

Nicely put.

Can I ask which book you co-wrote a chapter for? I'd be interested to check it out.

many thanks.



NanU said...

This one will be called Hypnosis and Cancer, and I'm not sure when it will come out. Likely 2010. And I forget the book title! It's not on the manuscript.

You probably can find a similar chapter from 2008:
KWIATKOWSKI, F. UHRHAMMER N, BLANCHET, A. Reinforcing biological rhythms with hypnosis : A new paradigm for immunotherapy in oncology ? In : Progress in Circadian Rhythm Research. A-L Léglise (ed) Nova Science Publishers, 2008.

It's really Fabrice who's the expert. He writes the chapters, then I come in and fix the language and argue over what you can really say and what you need to put into context. Between his fuzziness and my strict hardness the chapter ends up being moderate (as it should!).