Douglas Carnall, translator

Douglas Carnall was a GP in inner-city London for twelve years, and was an editor at the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for seven years.  As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also wrote and edited for The Guardian, LinuxUser and Reader’s Digest on subjects as varied as careers and cycling.

But he left all that behind to become a freelance translator.  His speciality is translating technical material (medical and computer-related) from French into English.

We’ll hand over to Douglas to explain what he does:

As a translator and editor I very often deal with unfamiliar topics and need to get up to speed quickly with the language and jargon typical in a field. It is a major frustration in my work that the most authoritative work is locked up behind paywalls. Typically I need to briefly access one key term in a handful of articles to understand how it is used in the field. As the prevailing rate for technical translation is around $0.12-0.20/word, accessing 3 or 4 articles at $30 each to check a single term is completely unfeasible. But that would be the best way to ensure high quality. I find paywalls vexing precisely because dumbed down popularizations are useless to me.

Bus surely this isn’t what publishers imagine people using articles for?

The point more generally is that neither the author nor the publisher can possibly conceive of all the potential ways that a scholarly work might be useful when it is freely available. If the scholarly literature could be treated as one vast linguistic corpus, I am sure that interesting developments in scientific communication, terminology, and translation would follow, for example.

And that, really, is the key point. When research papers are freed, we will find uses for them that no-one has imagined.

2 responses

  1. Thank you. In my freelance work as translator and editor of scientific texts I have exactly the same problem every day. Several times a day one has to check terminology or some fact in the primary literature, and paying $30 to get a single word or sentence correct is just not affordable.

    Libraries, where literature can be consulted for free, are no alternative – the time spent finding the papers is unpaid time for me. One really needs affordable, quick access from the desk.

    This situation is extremely frustrating, especially when editing science books for the general public, where I want to make sure that the information in the book is factual and up-to-date. If I can’t do any fact-checking, I just have to leave information that appears dubious (the author, of course, often wasn’t able to check it either…).

  2. Fiona Paterson | Reply

    Even libraries aren’t always the answer – the three universities in my area have all moved to electronic journals, which aren’t accessible to external library members even from on-site. I would be in favour of Athens offering subscription rates that are affordable to individuals.

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