Presto Chango

12 May

Now, there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake. Nothing at all. People make mistakes all the time – as I saw on the back of a window cleaners van the other day – ‘guano happens’.

For a trivial mistake (spelling etc) its easy to change things on a blog. I can simply edit and re-save the post. I don’t need to tell anyone my Bluto sized fingers have typed ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’ again. I can just change it and republish.

However, sometimes, you make a mistake that is rather more important. A mistake that changes the factual interpretation _and_ the tone of a post. These should be altered _and_ a little note be made close to the alteration to point out the error and the fact its fixed. Trying to get away with making such large scale errors and hoping no one notices is bad form.

If one is a journalist – a professional writer – you would expect the notification as a matter of course. Don’t journalists pride themselves on their accuracy and attention to detail?

So it was something of a surprise to see that the article Sullivan discussed written by David Kirby had undergone a mysterious and totally unremarked upon alteration.

This (click for larger image and then use your browsers ‘back’ button to return here after viewing) is the original post David made on the Huffington Post. The page was recovered from Google Cache. As you can see, this contains the erroneous ‘34,000’ figure and all that flows from it. The maths error that Sullivan noted.

However, visiting the Huffington Post post today reveals the following:

.

(Again, click for bigger).

As we can see, the post has undergone very significant change of a key part of important factual information. With no (that I can see) notification that the data has been altered. I took a screen shot of the entire page as of 09:43 on Mon 12th May 2008 and couldn’t see such a notification. Maybe someone else can see one?

Tut tut.

However, even more curiously, the same article David posted at the Age of Autism blog still contains the error.

(Again, click for bigger).

Why? Are AoA readers less interested in facts? Is David too busy packing for his trip over here in June (which I am _very_ much looking forward to by the way)?

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5 Responses to “Presto Chango”

  1. Joseph May 12, 2008 at 14:42 #

    When I make a correction, however minor, I add a little note at the top of the post. I think that should be considered proper form in blogs that discuss science. Blogs are not journals, so there’s no formal third-party control. Authors need to watch their own integrity.

  2. Sullivan May 12, 2008 at 17:01 #

    Still no update on AoA.

    Making mistakes is human. I have done it in the past and will do it in the future. I’ll likely make even bigger mistakes than the one Mr. Kirby made.

    However, Mr. Kirby has been arguing for years that others attempt to hide mistakes and sweep them under the rug. It is actually key to the entire “evidence of harm” theory. Why then does he not make it clear that he made the change on his blog?

  3. Ms. Clark May 12, 2008 at 17:48 #

    So I wonder if Kirby asked for the details to be changed on the AoA version but it hasn’t been done, or if he hasn’t asked?

    On that blog they are raging at the moment because of the way “antivaccine” people were described in an article.

    Why on earth would they be upset about that? None of them are “antivaccine,” right?

  4. Regan May 13, 2008 at 00:13 #

    I think people issue corrections when there is some chance that the erroneous information is going to make it into circulation and to notify people that the error has occurred and what its nature is. Journals do it, but then so do newspapers, and some blogs that I’ve seen.

    That’s a little bigger than the average “hte” typo and that a correction has not been made (leaving essentially 2 versions in circulation), nor a posting of corrections made is not exactly good editorial form.
    It’ll be interesting to see if, and when, they get around to changing and/or posting such a notice.

  5. kristina May 13, 2008 at 05:01 #

    Also just seems odd to have 2 versions out on the web of what is (per the author) the “same” post.

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