Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What is Wrong with the ACM Typesetting Process?

Recently, I had to go through the process of preparing the camera-ready version for two ACM TODS papers. I am not sure what exactly is the problem but the whole typesetting process at ACM seems to be highly problematic.

My own pet peeves:

Pet peeve A: The copyeditors do not know how to typeset math and they do not even check the paper to see if they have incorporated correctly their own edits.

I detected problems repeatedly and the copyeditor consistently does not check the proofs after making the edits. Here are a few examples.

Example #1

I submit the latex sources and the PDF, with the following equation:

The copyeditor does not like the superscripted e^{\beta x_a}, so decides to convert it into the inline form exp(\beta x_a). Not a bad idea! Look, though, what I get back instead:

To make things worse, such errors were pervasive and appeared in many equations in the paper. I asked the copyeditor to fix these errors and send me back the paper after the mistakes are fixed, so that I can check it again. I get reassured that I will be able to inspect the galley proofs again before they go to print. Well, why would I expect that someone who does such mistakes will be diligent enough to let me inspect again the paper...

A couple of weeks later, and despite all the promises, I get an email indicating that my paper was published and is available online. I check the ACM Digital Library, and I see my paper online, with the following formula:

OK, so we managed to get an interesting hybrid :-). Seriously, do the ACM copyeditors even LOOK at what they are doing? If they do check and they do not understand that this is an error, why do we even have copyeditors?

Example #2

I assumed that the previous snafu was just an exception. Well, never say never. A couple of days back, I got the galleys for another TODS paper, due to be published in the next few days. Again, the copyeditor decided to make (minor) changes in the equations. In my originally submitted paper, I had the following equations:

In the galleys, the same equations look like:

I will repeat myself: do the ACM copyeditors even LOOK at what they are doing? If they do check and they do not understand that this is an error, why do we even have copyeditors?

Pet peeve B: Converting vectorized figures into bitmaps

If you have submitted a paper to a conference, you know how crazy the copyeditors get about getting PDFs with only Type 1 fonts, vectorized, not-bitmapped, and so on. This is a good thing, as the resulting PDFs contain only scalable, vector-based fonts that look nice both on screen and on paper.

For the same reason, I also prepare nice, vectorized figures for my papers, so that they look nice both on screen and on paper. However, for some reason, the copyeditors at ACM they seem to like to convert the vectorized images into horrible, ugly bitmaps that do not scale and look awful. Here is an example of a figure in the original PDF:

Here is how the same figure looks at the PDF that I received as a galley:

Am I too picky? Is it bad that I want my papers to look good?

End of pet peeves

(Note: The same copyediting process, described above, at IEEE seems to work perfectly fine.)

I start believing that the whole idea of publishing is a horribly outdated process. I assumed that copyeditors were a part of a chain that adds value to the paper, not a part that subtracts value.

If I need to check carefully my paper, being afraid that the copyeditor will introduce bugs, that the copyeditor will make everything look horrible, then why do we even have copyeditors? Just get rid of them; they are simply parasites in the whole process! Can you imagine having a professor that teaches a class and at the end the students know less about a topic? Would you keep this professor teaching?

Make everything open access. Let every author be responsible for the way that the paper looks. Let the authors revise papers in digital libraries that have problems. Why we consider perfectly acceptable to have bug fixes and new versions for applications and operating systems, but we want the papers that we produce to be frozen in time and completely static?

Furthermore, the whole motivation for having journals is to have the peer-reviewing process that guarantees that the "published" paper is better than the submitted one. Everything else is secondary. Why keep in the chain processes that only cause problems?

When are we going to realize that the publication system should be completely revamped? Why not having an ongoing reviewing process, improving the paper continuously? Should we keep the system as-is so that we can be "objectively evaluated" by counting static papers that are produced once and never visited again?

OK, venting is over. Back to the SIGMOD papers.