HTML Document Note for intelligent proof readers

Release date 02/10/2009
Contributor kvrancken

In the Science issue of 26 July 1895, a small paper entiteld 'Balm for wounded authors and proofreaders' shows that proofreading is not to be concentrated on form and typography only.


"The question whether a proof-reader must have knowledge of the contents of any article that passes through his hands having been discussed in a German paper, the Frankfurter Zeitung, brings the following amusing contribution from Prof. Karl Vogt, the celebrated scientist, in illustration of this problem.

"When Edward Desor and myself were working with Agassiz at Neuenburg my friend Desor was charged with describing certain fossil fish after the latter's notes. Desor used to dictate these descriptions to a young man who pretended to know all about it, while Desor counselled him to consider himself merely an unconscious tool. To sound the knowledge of his clerk, my colleague one day, under my connivance, dictated to his secretary the most absurd nonsense by interlacing the description of some fossil fish with the particular statement. 'This remarkable specimen differs from all others in the abnormal fact of having its head in the same spot where the others' tails are found.' The clerk took everything down as it came from the lips of my collaborator without rebelling. Desor, accidentally being called away, forgot his trick, and the manuscript went to the printing office. The proof was read by Dr. G., who had expressly been appointed to the post by Agassiz, and besides entrusted with the compilation of his 'Nomenclator.' Desor and myself read the second proofs; so did Agassiz, who placed his imprimatur upon them, but none of us four took notice of the nonsense it contained. The whole was printed, and only then, when the series was about to be sent to the subscribers, my friend Desor remembered the trick he had played on his amanuensis. A special card had to be inserted in place of the objectionable passage. The conclusion may easily be drawn four proof-readers had read the article without consciously taking knowledge of its contents.