Some employers are more strict about mistakes than others.
Megan McArdle discusses the lamentable tendency of some people to make numerous and egregious errors.
Why Don't Publishers Check Facts
The Economist pens one of its customarily acerbic book reviews in which it notes an extraordinary number of basic errors: [snipped quote].
The Economist reviews a female economics writer and says the "trouble starts when [she] ventures into economic analysis;" she mangles elementary economics, makes "puzzling omissions," and "commits some jaw-dropping factual errors." The Economist says she is a poor writer as well.
Back to McArdle:
How does something like this happen? Online, of course--people write quickly, and they often work from memory rather than looking up every fact. It is, as any writer can attest, startlingly easy for a bad fact--like Fiat buying GM--to insert itself so thoroughly into your consciousness that you don't even know you ought to look it up.
I hesitate to bring this up, as McArdle is the professional and I am merely an amateur, but journalists actually are supposed to look up every fact. I know, I know--it's a lot to ask. You have to open a new window and type in a few words or a sentence and then spend minutes reading sources and cross-checking. It's such a nuisance when you can just depend on your memory of the last Cato paper you read, but, well, there it is--journalists are expected to check their facts before they report them. It's unfair but I don't make the rules.
But this is what fact checkers are for, and I don't understand why book publishers don't have them. They cost money, to be sure--but not that much money.
McArdle could tell us just how little they cost but that would require fact-checking.
She could also talk to a few people in publishing to see if the profit margin on most books is too small to support a fact-checker, how much net profit publishing houses make, and the experiences of any publishing houses that do hire fact checkers. Doesn't that sound like fun--spend some time on the phone and the web researching an interesting topic and then tell your audience all about it? And make lots of money to do it? That would be a great job. Although, I must admit, McArdle's practice of skipping the work and going straight to spending the money is an even better job.
Sadly, there are a lot of experienced magazine people around right now who could be got at very competitive freelance rates. A quarter of a million dollars a year would get you the world's finest staff of crack fact checkers; quite a bit less money would prevent embarassments like this book. It might have even headed off the Arming America disaster, if a fact checker had noticed that the figures in his, er, smoking gun table, didn't add up.
It appears that someone has friends in need of jobs worthy of their high social standing, elite education, and Galtian superiority. Too bad our elite destroyed the economy and pulled up the ladder behind them.
Presumably the answer is that it isn't economic: readers don't care, and indeed rarely learn; there's no money in preventing the occasional catastrophe like Arming America. But then one must turn the question around: why do magazines like The Economist, the New Yorker, and yes, The Atlantic, employ fact checkers? Our readers are the potential consumers of books like the one that the Economist is reviewing; do they care less about accuracy in their books than in their magazine articles?
Based on the evidence before us I'd say that yes, McArdle's readers are not overly concerned with accuracy.
Not that anyone at The Atlantic thinks about it that way; we employ fact checkers because it seems like the right thing to do.
Perish the thought! Of course The Atlantic isn't concerned with silly things like lawsuits or reputation; they just care about the truth. And so does McArdle on her blog, just as long as she doesn't have to, you know, look the truth up.
But why does this ethic prevail at so many magazines, and at no publishing house?
It's a puzzler. But at least we are reassured that The Atlantic fact-checks its articles and therefore McArdle's very hard-won reputation for error is nothing but one of those liberal lies, like the Social Security Trust Fund and the existence of poor people in America.
ADDED: Meanwhile at The Atlantic, journalist Teri Buhl reports on illegal activities by Bear Stearns. Remember when McArdle said that there were "no villins" in our economic disaster, just systemic failure? She has quite the nose for news.