As long as you’re boycotting Elsevier anyway …

why not add to your list all the journals on Allen Downey’s Hall of Shame? Elsevier may charge exorbitant prices, but at least they don’t (as far as I know) require authors to write in the passive voice.

I’m not a big passive-basher. I’m with Geoffrey Pullum: teaching students never to use the passive voice is largely passing on a supersition. But the reverse rule (always¬†use the passive voice), which some scientists seem to have been taught, is far worse. The never-use-the-passive superstition is harmless, maybe even mildly helpful. The always-use-the-passive superstition, on the other hand, is wholly pernicious.

If you’re a scientist, use the active voice whenever it sounds better (which is most of the time). If an editor won’t let you, fight back.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never had an editor or referee complain about my use of the active voice in any of my papers. Fortunately, I don’t publish in the ICES Journal of Marine Science or the other hall of shame inductees.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

2 thoughts on “As long as you’re boycotting Elsevier anyway …”

  1. Wait — don’t boycott ICES Journal of Marine Science yet — I got a note from them indicating that they are reviewing this policy and expect to reverse it!

  2. The rule for use of the passive voice was violated even in the response, for it is “The policy is being reviewed, and it is expected to be reversed” that should have been said. Disappointment is being experienced that the logical conclusion of the “the passive shall always be used” policy will not be explored. For example, some curiosity has been expressed regarding how intransitive verbs can be placed into the passive. Creativity in rephrasing would have to be exercised. New ground in English grammar would need to be broken.

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