For a salutary reminder of how easy it is for well-known “facts” to be no such thing, even when they are often repeated in print, consider some of the entries in “They Never Said It”, a compendium of misquotations published in 1989. Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson” (or anything like it). “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my revolver” is a line from a play, not a quote from Hermann Goering. “Let them eat cake” began life in Rousseau’s “Confessions”, not the mouth of Marie-Antoinette. Voltaire never said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And there is no reason to think Abraham Lincoln ever said “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”—though it is evidently true that you can fool a lot of people for a long time with the aid of books. The quip “Too much checking on the facts has ruined many a good news story” has long been attributed to an American newspaper magnate, Roy Howard; needless to say, it appears to be an invention.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
At More Intelligent Life, Anthony Gottlieb on the problem of error correction: