Companies cashing in prey like vultures, however. Where do the fees come from? It would be immoral to spend money on this year's grant to get help writing next year's, because grant funds are supposed to strictly to the proposed research. Departments are very unlikely to shell out for their faculty members to buy the service, and if they do it may come from grant overhead, and again would be immoral if not illegal.
Another installment, this time by a once-reputable company
Today, everyone subscribing to Nature got, stuck onto the issue's cover, an advertisement for Macmillan Science Communications (MSC--Macmillan publishes Nature), selling services to help you write your next paper and target it to journals you tell them you want to hit.
As the snapshot from their web site shows, the minimal service costs $625 for a brief bit of reaction from MSC, and $1250 for actual help on a paper, if the paper is less than 1500 words (a length that, by the way, is basically a comment, not generally a real paper); for longer papers, of course, the tab goes up by an unspecified amount.
You might think of these as bargain charges, and of course one would expect Macmillan to be livid at our portrayal of their noble cause. But we can remember how, in the good old days, your colleague down the hall would help. If English was not your native language, you would get help with your grammar and the like. We ourselves have done that countless times (if only we'd known we should have been charging such fees!).
OK, you're in a hyper-competitive system and you're scared that you'll not get tenure if you don't get your paper in the highest impact journal, so you'll pay through the proverbial proboscis. We wonder if the noble MSC ever will tell you your paper is too trivial or minimal to make it to a good journal, or if they'll just charge you and wish you good luck. They don't, we presume, guarantee acceptance.
So who pays? Like the grant-writing scams of a couple of years ago, will it be from your current grant? Will your Chair provide the funds? How many papers' worth will be covered? Are you too embarrassed to ask for help, lest your weaknesses be exposed? Or, is it more likely that MSC is knowingly preying on your fears and knowing that you'll pay it out of pocket?
One might argue that MSC is just tapping into, and exploiting in a benign sense, a ready market, and that they are in that sense doing a service, even a good thing. If so, it's a very sorry reflection of the state of affairs. Why, even if MSC is a crassly capitalistic company, this is downright Marxian! How could that be, you ask?
We churn out more labor--in this case, PhDs--than we can employ, and let them linger on the edge until or if we need them. We churn them out because they generate the work of our labs and enable us to bring in the profits (grants, patents) in which they really don't share. That they are unemployed doesn't mean we don't keep training more, because of the industrial growth-is-everything model. So some of these urchins have to find other jobs, and in this case it appears that some find jobs with MSC, preying on the insecurities and fears of those who do cling onto or hope to get jobs in the system, by promising that if they (the surplus scientists) edit the terrorized workers' work the latter can hope to keep their jobs. Of course, given that we are training surplus labor, that's an illusion. So we think it's a cruelty in many ways to exploit this situation.
The idea that anything any greedy person wants to gouge others for is all right is a symptom, we think, of an honorless society. If getting cribs to do your paper-writing, or (we've posted on this before) to 'help' you get grants, is doing a needed service, or a service that the trade will bear, is a legitimate thing to do, then it shows how sorry our society's behavior is to provide the clientel in the first place.
Faculty members should not be hired as sales agents, but for their insight and talents. Faculty members should by that stage be able to write papers and grants, to know where to target them and how to write them. One should not need cribs and commercial services to do what one has presumably been prepared to do while in graduate school and postdoctoral positions. But if for proper reasons, such as English-language issues or lack of enough experience, they can't do their own work, then their colleagues should not be unwilling to help.