Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


November 7, 2014

Ethics for Editors Seminar

Understand your role.

Keep your promises.

These were the guiding principles behind our discussions during an Editors’ Association of Canada seminar taught by Mary Schendlinger of Geist magazine.

Why does a copy editor need to understand ethical issues?

Editors are the front line of the publishing industry: after authors, editors work most closely with manuscripts, and often, that makes them the publishing professionals who flag potential libel, copyright infringement, plagiarism, invasion of privacy, and biased language. If you work with self-publishing authors, you might be the only publishing expert the author comes in contact with who can warn them about these issues.

Responsibilities to many stakeholders

You may think of publishing ethics in terms of dealing with your employers or clients, but there is a much wider range of stakeholders to consider: authors; readers; your colleagues and the larger community of writers and artists; other publishing professionals, such as printers, designers, booksellers, libraries, advertisers, and investors; and the environment.
  • The author’s hard work and creativity should be respected. Copyright law gives them the right to be credited and compensated, and for their work to be published without distortion.
  • The reader deserves a good product.
  • You can support your colleagues and the publishing community by participating in industry events and supporting professional associations. Treat your clients and staff well. Be honest and fair with your professional recommendations.
  • Consider the environmental footprint of your publications and your work methods. Even Internet use has an energy cost.

Some questions and common problems

Here are a few questions that came up together with answers that were offered.

When you’re a freelance editor, is it OK to turn away a manuscript because you don’t agree with the opinions expressed in it or you just don’t feel like working on it? Yes. It’s OK to choose projects that you’ll enjoy working on, and the editing process works best when the editor is enthusiastic about the project.

Conversely, is it OK to accept a project you’re not enthusiastic about? Yes. You can do an excellent, professional job editing a manuscript even if you’re not personally passionate about wing-nut-manufacturing specifications, the life cycle of the hookworm, or cooking with kale.

What should you do when you find plagiarism in a manuscript? If you find racist or sexist statements? Plagiarism can happen by accident, and biased language might be completely invisible to the author. Treat the problem as a problem with the writing, not a problem with the author, and address it in terms of how it could distract the reader from the book’s message.

What if you’re working on a manuscript and you find errors that should have been fixed at an earlier stage in the editing? Be careful about complaining to your employer that the earlier editor didn’t do their job. It may be that what looks like an error was kept at the insistence of the author.

Further reading

  • See also my introduction to Canadian libel law.
  • Various style guides have sections on legal issues: Editing Canadian English, 2nd Ed., Chapter 11, “Editors and the Law,” Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Ed., Chapter 4 “Rights, Permissions, and Copyright Administration,” Associated Press Stylebook, “Briefing on Media Law,” and Canadian Press Stylebook, various sections including “Legal.”
  • Canadian Copyright Law by Lesley Ellen Harris has a newly updated edition.

November 6, 2014

Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run

Matt Fitzgerald: Iron War In 1989, the two biggest long-distance triathletes in the world met head to head at the Hawaii Ironman—the most prestigious triathlon in the world. Dave Scott had already won this race six times. Mark Allen had dominated everywhere except Kona; although he had gone up against Dave Scott at the Hawaii Ironman four times, he had never been able to win. In the 1989 race, called the Iron War ever since, they raced within metres of each other for eight hours, building a five-kilometre lead on the rest of the field, with neither able to break away. The winner broke the course record by nineteen minutes.

How did these two athletes put on such outstanding performances? Are they aerobic mutants? Were they driven by ferocious inner demons? Matt Fitzgerald explores the science of exercise capacity and finds that it is an athlete’s mental gifts that make the difference. It seems that people stop exercising when the mental strain of persisting in the face of perceived effort—suffering—is too great, and that a specific part of the brain (the part that handles response inhibition and conflict resolution) is involved in exercise endurance. But even the most accomplished sufferers needs a perceived rewards to motivate them. Fitzgerald digs into Mark Allen’s and Dave Scott’s respective pasts to explore what makes them tick and why they found what they were looking for in triathlon.

Supposedly the idea of combining a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike ride, and 42-kilometre run (a full marathon) arose from a recurring argument about who was fittest: swimmers, cyclists, or runners. Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the iron man. This book is as much a celebration of the peculiar sport of long-distance triathlon as it is about Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Triathletes will enjoy reading about the people who took the fledgling sport and pushed it farther than anyone had imagined. Fans of sport stories will discover a strange new world.

If fatigue is caused by a mere perception why can’t athletes simply override it by an act of will? This objection reflects a common misunderstanding about the nature of mental phenomena. Intuitively, most people regard perceptions as nonphysical and therefore as lacking the power to exert deterministic control over physical functions. But perceptions are physical—they are specific patterns of electrical and chemical activity in the brain—and they have as much causal power as a punch to the gut.

While there are zillions of stories about not quitting, few tellers of such tales ever really explore the source of the will to endure, the substance of trying harder. Most raconteurs of sport just take it as given that any seer or hearer of a story of outrageous persistence can be inspired to try harder . . . Modern science has enabled us to put this kind of courage under the microscope as never before, and the results have not been kind to the myth of the communicability of will. Scientists . . . have demonstrated that the bravery of the likes of Dave Scott and Mark Allen is a physical thing subject to physical laws and cannot be freely chosen by just anyone.

Further reading

Reviewed from my own copy of the book.