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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Monday, April 12, 2004

From Bastard Sword (who just got blogrolled by Den Beste, and I am so jealous), a dissection of the usual boilerplate global-warming copy. Some of the commenters on the thread lit upon an error in this paragraph of the original:

But Jonathan Gregory, of the Hadley Centre for climate prediction at the University of Reading, and colleagues from Brussels and Bremerhaven, report in the journal Nature that an average annual warming in the region of 2.7C (37F) would mean that the rate of melting would outpace the annual snowfall.

As one of the commenters pointed out, while an absolute temperature of 2.7°Celsius is the same as 37°F, the same number as a difference in temperatures comes out to 4.9°F. And everyone took that up as evidence of the original author's stupidity. The article is packed with other evidence of the author's stupidity, but this one doesn't fit the bill.

The aphorism, "Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by simple stupidity," has a corollary for the modern age: "Never ascribe to simple stupidity what can be explained by computers." And the parenthetical "37°F," simply because it is such a stupid and obvious error, shows all the hallmarks of having been inserted into the text after the fact by a computer program that scans posted copy, inserting English-to-metric and metric-to-English conversions whenever something trips its wires. I've seen the same sort of thing happen on news web sites, where the author's unfortunate choice of phrase just happens to look like a Fortune 500 company, and the scanning software, without any regard to the contextual error, inserts a parenthetical containing links to the NYSE listing.

-- posted by Clayton 4/12/2004 09:20:00 PM | comments (0)




For the more forensically inclined