Survey: Editors messing with article titles common but not pervasive
[ Dec 26, 2008, Hong Kong ] In an utterly unscientific survey, it was found that the practice of non-academic editors changing the article titles chosen by authors is common but not pervasive. Dr. Yui-Wah (Clement) Lee, who does not have a doctoral degree in social science nor media studies conducted an informal survey among his editor and author friends. He found that 50% of his author friends reported that their title choices were seldom messed with by the editor, while another 25% and 25% reported "always" and "often" respectively (see figures).
Dr. Lee, who is an author of both non-academic articles and academic peer-reviewed papers, said it is unheard-of in the world of academic journals that an editor would even change one single word of an academic paper without first consulting the authors. "If Einstein says E equals to M times C squared, no one would change it to M equals to E divided by C squared," he said, "even though the two expressions are equivalent mathematically." He points out that, however, in the circle of Hong Kong non-academic publication (mostly newspapers), this practice is more common. "This probably originated from the time when authors were still hand carrying their articles to a newsroom," he said, "and there were not enough time nor easy communication means for the editors to consult the authors when some changes were deemed appropriate."
Since then there have been the inventions of electronic mail or other more advanced communication means.
Dr Lee points out that every article, academic or not, is published with the name of the authors signed on it. The public perceive that every word, letter by letter, comes from the authors, while in practice it is actually more a combination of authors' creation plus editors' editing. "Although the editors are ultimately responsible for the newspaper, they do not sign their names next to the article, but the authors do. Therefore, the authors choices of words should be given a higher weight when there are differences in opinions." "With mutual respect, this dilemma is not difficult to solve these days," he suggested, "Why can't the editors give the author a shout and ask them if it is okay to edit the article in a certain way?"