It Matters!

I don't normally post twice in one day, but after uploading my last post I happened to follow a link I was sent on Twitter. This was an example of why Twitter is a good thing. The link went to an article a person correctly thought I'd be interested in. It deals with the same subject matter as the post I wrote yesterday, pretty much just mindlessly repeating the narrative I criticized in that post.

It repeats another aspect of that narrative as well. You might remember I wrote this yesterday:

Before I go on, I want to point out I counted at least four errors in this article that should have been caught by basic proofreading. That seems crazy to me. The Wall Street Journal is a major newspaper. Even a single typo in an article should be uncommon. That there are four astounds me. I won't fault Pielke for this as people make mistakes. The only people I fault are the editors at the WSJ who I'm not convinced even read this piece.

I won't say anything more about that though. People often tell me I care too much about such matters. Rather than bore everybody with them, I'll just jump into things...

In a strange twist of fate, this person on Twitter managed to send me a link to an article (he hadn't even read yet) which evokes the exact same feelings from me. So yeah, I get most of you guys probably don't care about things like grammatical mistakes and typos, but they matter! I swear they do!

To keep things brief, I won't discuss every error in this Daily Mail piece. I won't cover every little thing like the missing comma in:

Pielke Jr has since extended his field of research to other domains, such as sports organizations and has found the change 'refreshing'.

Because it's a pain to proofread articles from across the ocean. I'm sure I wouldn't be able to remember all the differences between British and American English. Plus, a lot of people have started making the error we see in the sentence above so I'm sure I'd just get in a fight with someone over how the "rules" are changing and I need to get with the times. (Believe it or not, there is no missing comma in that last sentence.)

Sorry, I rambled a bit. The point I was wanting to make is this Daily Mail article says:

Director John P Hodren wrote it after Senator Jeff Sessions had accused him of misleading the American people by linking severe droughts in the west of the United States to climate change.

Sessions had quoted Pielke Jr in his challenge of Hodren, prompting Holdren to debunk Pielke Jr's conclusions in response.

As a person who has suffered this on many occasions myself, I want to stress I understand it can sometimes be difficult to spell people's names correctly. I get it. I wonder about it sometimes given we live in the digital age with the internet and the ability to copy-and-paste, but still, I get it. What I don't get is this:

Hodren, Hodren, Holdren.

I've never understood this. I've seen my own name spelled three different ways in the same article before. It baffles me. Even if your editors can't catch when you spell someone's name correctly, how does any proofreader fail to notice you refer to two different people?

I don't understand how this happens, and I especially don't understand how I found (without even trying) four typos in Roger Pielke Jr's piece then found three more in the first follow-up to it I saw. What kind of newspapers can't manage basic proofreading? It's not like I'm complaining the Daily Mail says:

Roger Pielke Jr, an environmental studies professor at the University Of Colorado, called himself a 'climate change heretic' in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal Wednesday. Pielke Jr believes climate change is real but his research has concluded that there is little evidence that extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, flood and droughts, have increased in the United States or across the world.

That position, which he admits might be wrong, prompted 'an intense media campaign' to have him fired from his position as a writer for Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, Pielke Jr wrote. He said he was demoted from staff writer to freelancer and quit when it became 'obvious' that the website wouldn't publish his work anymore.

When Pielke actually writes:

Or look at the journalists who helped push me out of FiveThirtyEight. My first article there, in 2014, was based on the consensus of the IPCC and peer-reviewed research. I pointed out that the global cost of disasters was increasing at a rate slower than GDP growth, which is very good news. Disasters still occur, but their economic and human effect is smaller than in the past. It’s not terribly complicated.

That article prompted an intense media campaign to have me fired.

Which is not the same thing. I understand basic proofreading isn't meant to catch an author changing "article" to "position" or "the global cost of disasters" to an increase in "extreme weather events" (though a proofreader might wonder if this "increase" referred to number, severity or what). I get that. What I don't get is how do people who get paid to look for errors fail to notice "Hodren" is not the same as "Holdren"?

I get most of you may not care about this, but guess what, it matters! Basic standards of professional are what separate journalists from every Tom, Dick and Harry hack writer you can find on the internet. If your proofreading is barely above what is found on a site like mine, why should anyone trust your commitment to truth and accuracy?

As a final thought, there was a time I was paid to proofread things. I did it mostly for fun (yes, I'm weird), but I made a bit of money off it too. I kind of wish I could do that again. Judging by what I'm seeing in articles lately, I think I could make a living off it if I charged 25 cents for each error I found in a piece that went to press. It'd probably cost less than training the current editors to proofread properly too.

4 comments

  1. Appearance is how we judge quality when we don't have other information. Used car dealers clean and shine their vehicles for sale. Mom made us wash and comb before taking us out in public. It makes sense to put on a good front, even if it's a facade. Shoddy spelling and grammar should make us suspect the accuracy and truth of the article.

  2. You know, it'd be interesting to run a project where a group of people check the number of spelling and grammar errors present in articles by various media outlets. I wonder how well the results would correlation to the (perceived or actual) quality of reporting by those outlets.

    How does one go about getting funding for such a project? It couldn't be any more a waste of money than plenty of things we have going on.

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