Thursday, April 17, 2014

Editing Can Save More than Face

I'm reading about the HeartBleed bug this morning, like a lot of people. I feel for Robin Seggelmann, a doubtlessly brilliant person prone to human error, just like the rest of us. He made a mistake, and now the poor guy is infamous.

"If everybody just keeps using [the software] and thinks somebody else will eventually take care of it, it won’t work. The more people look at it, the less likely errors like this occur." Seggelmann told Mashable via e-mail.

I thought that this was an appropriate statement for endorsing the importance of what editors do, specifically editors for scholars. I work with people every day who are equally as brilliant as Seggelmann, just in their own fields. And I fix things that they might have missed.

They didn't miss these errors because they aren't smart. They miss them because they have bigger fish to fry. They are wrestling with the realities of presiding over a university department, or achieving a PhD, or analyzing the digital equivalent of reams and reams of data.

Here's something I read just this morning (with pseudonyms in italics):

"Green people are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than blue people."

OK, setting aside the morbid topic of child abuse, there are problems with this sentence. Is the writer saying that Greenies are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than they are to kill Blue adults? That's not what the writer meant. Greenies are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than Blues are to kill Green children? No. The writer was trying to say that Green people are 2.4 times more likely to kill their own children than Blue people are to kill their own children.

Really, in the context of the entire academic article, you might think that this little bit of confusion doesn't matter.

And it doesn't matter. Until Green people sue you for libel, you get quoted on the evening news, and a government official works your results into the next bill she's writing about Green-Blue relations.

Just a thought.

Brilliant people need editors too more!