I think I noticed this because I’ve been thinking recently about crime and punishment . . . anyway, Gary Wills in this article in the New York Review of Books makes a basic statistical error. Wills writes:
In the most recent year for which figures are available, these are the numbers for firearms homicides:
Great Britain 197
United States 30,419
But, as we always tell our students, what about the denominator? Ireland only has 4 million people (it had more in the 1800s, incidentally). Yeah, 30,000/(300 million) is still greater than 54/(4 million), but still . . . this is basic stuff. I’m not trying to slam Wills here–numbers are not his job–but shouldn’t the copy editor catch something like that? Flipping it around, if a scientist had written an article for the magazine and had messed up on grammar, I assume the copy editor would’ve fixed it.
The problem, I guess, is that there are a lot more people qualified to be grammar-copy-editors than to be statistics-copy-editors. But still, I think that magazines would do well to hire such people.
P.S. I also noticed the Wills article linked here, although they didn’t seem to notice the table.