Sunday, December 6, 2015

Errors and Expectations

I have high expectations when I open a book published by a noted publisher. I expect, or used to expect, a factually accurate, carefully revised and edited text, with full documentation to sources consulted, and an unbiased stance.

Today, with electronic publishing and cut-backs in the cut-throat world of publishing printed books, I have to settle for less. At least the New Yorker maintains the traditional standards, being conservative in punctuation and style, hiring line editors to proof every article more than once, and fact-checkers to double check each statement. Few other outfits today spend the money for all this, and the public suffers.

Mark Twain, suspicious of health fads and knowledgeable about printing, once said that in reading a book giving advice on health, you have to be careful or you might die of a misprint.  I suppose that is still true, perhaps even more so on the internet where editing in the usual sense is rare.

According to a study a few years ago, sixty percent of articles published in American newspapers and magazines contained errors; only 20 percent were ever corrected.  The New York Times remains one of the few publications with a full-time corrections editor, who lists amended versions of 3,500 items a year; but many go unnoticed.

Students in graduate schools learning research methodology are taught, or should know, the importance of reading sources with a healthy skepticism, taking time to double check facts and quotations for accuracy.  Other writers are well advised to double check the meanings of words, as I do from time to time.

Ultimately, the author is the one responsible for being accurate, and by going public, he or she should expect to be challenged not only for unwarranted statements but for statements of fact--something lost on several leading political candidates these days, whose wild assertions are laughable, yet get circulated in the media so that people come to believe they are true.

Given the statements made by Donald Trump and others in his party, the little errors I worry about in printed books seem inconsequential; still, when I find one, it causes me to wonder how reliable the author really is.  An author is one who writes, supposedly, with authority. . .  .Ah, well.

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