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Re: [Ghm-discuss] FSFE’s contribution to the “Horizon 2020” EU research

From: Karsten Gerloff
Subject: Re: [Ghm-discuss] FSFE’s contribution to the “Horizon 2020” EU research program
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2011 18:12:19 +0100
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.20 (2009-06-14)

Hi Reuben,

On Fri, Dec 09, 2011 at 03:31:28PM +0000, Reuben Thomas wrote:
> > However, the version on the website is the actual text we've sent to the
> > EC. So I'd prefer to leave that version up as a record.
> Then you've unfortunately wasted quite a bit of my time. Ludo's
> message said: "FSFE has put together a paper intended for the
> European Commission", from which I not unreasonably inferred that it
> had not been sent and that you were seeking comment.

It was indeed not unreasonable to infer this -- but as sometimes
happens with inferences, this one was incorrect. 

I agree that the formulation used by Ludo wasn't entirely clear.
On the other hand, my usual practice is to explicitly ask for
comments when I'm seeking them. 

My intention was not to waste your time, but rather to update you
and the others on this list about what became of the input from
the session at the GHM in Paris in August.
> This is doubly unfortunate as the paper as sent is poorly written and
> will probably be (have been?) read by non-native English speakers,
> thus doubling the comprehension deficit. 

That's likely. The person in the EC whom we sent it to is
actually from Malta, I believe.

> I'm sure papers from those
> with different views will have been much better written and reviewed.

I've seen quite a few of papers of this type (though not in this
instance), and based on my experience, that's not the case. The
linguistic quality of papers passed around in Brussels is usually

In the EU institutions, most people are not native English
speakers. Yet everyone needs to work in English. So there's an
unspoken consensus not to pick on the linguistic details in a
text (unless you're talking about laws or treaties, of course,
where precision is everything), and get on with work.

We try to produce the best texts we possibly can. But we often
work under huge time pressure, with texts mostly written by
non-natives, and often reviewed by other non-natives. Processes
like the Horizon 2020 discussion have deadlines -- in this case,
the EC was going to publish a formal proposal by the end of
November, so we had to get our text in several weeks before then.
It gets to the point where we have to make a choice to either
submit a less-than-perfect text, or throw away something that
we've worked on for weeks. So we submit.

> So not only has the FSFE made a poor submission, but it could have
> been much better.

I agree that the submission could probably have been better --
there's almost always room for improvement. 

But I don't agree that it was poor. I consider it a pretty solid
piece of work. We worked hard to process the input we received
from the group in Paris, and from various other sources in the
Free Software community, and to reference this to EU texts,
strategies and priorities, so that our submission would be

This is a document for a very specific target audience -- the
person in the EC in charge of Free Software issues within Horizon
2020, and a small set of people he works with, mostly his
colleagues and superiors. The text is optimised for these
requirements, and these requirements alone. 

> This whole situation seems to  exemplify the sort of poor intra-GNU
> communication that goes on all the time.

I can't speak to that.

> The pointer to a web page is all very well, but I (and perhaps
> others?) am unlikely to go reading a web page of documents that could
> be improved. I tend to do work on documents that I have read for some
> other reason (especially reference documentation), and to respond to
> targeted requests for help. So if, for example, requests for help in
> similar future situations were sent to gnu-prog-discuss, I might well
> respond. (But asking me to subscribe to gnu-english-help won't work.)
> I fear this message may read as rather self-centred, but I'm trying to
> be realistic about my psychology, and how best to pique me into doing
> volunteer work on things that are worthy but frankly a bit dull. I
> wouldn't go looking for such work, but I might well take it on if I
> found a request in my inbox at the right moment (for example, when I
> got Ludo's message, I was in the middle of a tour, spending hours per
> day sitting on buses or in hotels). I suspect I'm not alone, and it
> seems you probably do need to reach out to non-self-selecting
> volunteer labour.

This is not an unusual behaviour pattern by any means, and I
appreciate that you took the time to formulate it.

My pointer was meant as an invitation, not an obligation of any

So, could I take the liberty of contacting you when there's a
document you've already invested into in some form (e.g. time,
work, ideas) and checking whether you'd be interested in reviewing
the language?

Have a great weekend!

Best regards,
Karsten Gerloff                      [ ]   <address@hidden>
Free Software Foundation Europe   [ ][ ][ ]      []
President                            | |         +49 176 9690 4298
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Free Software Foundation Europe e.V. is a German Verein registered
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