White-painted sepulchres

Sean Edwards mzfses at MAIL1.MCC.AC.UK
Tue May 19 13:53:30 CDT 1998

On:  Sat, 16 May 1998 14:30:43 -0300, Thomas Schlemmermeyer wrote:

> So, here I may put an ethical question: Seen that the correct,
> highly objective, but nevertheless artistically well-made
> illustration is a vital part of any description, what role should
> be given to the professional illustrator?
> Should he be mentioned as co-author, in the acknowledgements or not
> at all?
> Cheers   Thomas

Surely there should be no problem here? This may have been an
"aside" from Thomas, but it does need an answer.

Firstly, scientific papers should ideally be illustrated by the
author. Illustration (both by line drawing or by photography) should
be as much as part of the worker's training and competence as, for
example, using a microscope. Sadly it is not. Not now, anyway.

OK, some first-rate researchers just happen to be lousy illustrators
(usually a weak excuse or typo for lazy illustrators, although I
accept not always). Maybe the more senior an author becomes, the
more he/she feels that all this technical stuff is something you
get others to do. But anyway, the responsibility for the result lies
entirely in the hands of the author, otherwise you'd have typesetters
(when they existed, OK Bill Gates now) etc. all being co-authors;
you read proofs.

I could quote (but won't) cases of misinformation in published work
because drawings were done by a technician. In one event, only those
bits of the drawing that were relevant to the interest of the author
were checked by the author, and other errors slipped through; it
would take a remarkable referee to pick that sort of thing up, but
it resulted in a faulty reference in another paper on another aspect
of the same species. After all, if every cell were to be checked,
then the author might as well have done the whole thing him/herself.
Proof-reading of illustrations as with text. Incidentally, this is
the same issue that arises in supervisor-checking of data
gathering/input by volunteer or technical staff for Museum

Similarly in a popular British Flora where, for example, the correct
number of 'sepals' in Ranunculus ficaria was evidently deemed to be
artistically interpretable. Illustrator (not a botanist) was
co-author here, by the way. Nice pictures, though.

I could also quote (but won't) an author whose earlier work was
illustrated (beautifully) by a professional, then later work
illustrated by h'self; the later work might not have been so pretty
or impressive to look at, but was interestingly generally preferred
as being more useful.

I know that this might be a slightly flip response (I'm not quite
that arrogant!), but it is a real ethical issue that has been touched
upon. It ties into presentation versus content. It is much easier now
to produce good-looking results, but we must not assume that this
reflects the contents.

I certainly am not suggesting that researchers don't use technical
help in an increasingly technical world (SEMs, molecular work, etc.,
etc.), but the buck stops with the author, and that's why his/her
name is there and not the illustrator's or the technician's. In the
acknowledgements, certainly.


sean.edwards at man.ac.uk
Sean R. Edwards, Keeper of Botany, The Manchester Museum,
Manchester University, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

'phone: +44 (0)161-275-2671/2;         fax: +44 (0)161-275-2676
web: http://www.man.ac.uk/museum/

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