What’s wrong with this picture?

Making a mistake is human. Being wrong is quintessentially human.

Failing to admit that you’ve erred, failing to correct a clear mistake–also human, but a whole lot less admirable.

I’ve discussed this before and probably will again.

Right now, there are two examples that I find troublesome, both relating to the same story–that is, the AP/Ipsos poll that showed 27% of adult Americans not finishing a book last year. A poll with no historical context that resulted in a surprising number of doom-and-gloom stories–even though the only obvious context (the NEA “reading at risk” survey of 2002 reading habits) seems to show a substantial increase in the percentage of American adults who read at least a book a year–from 57% in 2002 to 73% in 2006, an increase of 28%.

The first example will, for now, remain anonymous–because I still have hopes that this blogger (affiliated with a very prestigious university) simply isn’t getting her email and will eventually correct the story. A blog entry got the story 100% wrong, reporting that only 1/4 of Americans did read a book last year. That would be pretty appalling, taking us back to pre-WWII numbers (supposedly, a 1937 Gallup poll showed 29% of Americans reading books, that percentage dropping to 17% in 1955). Fortunately, that’s simply not what the story says. (This particular blog only accepts comments from some in crowd; I’ve sent email but the post still has it wrong, several days later.)

The second example isn’t a blog, and the professional journalist has had two days to fix it, so I’m going to name it explicitly: Michael Rogers’ news item at LJ Online, posted early Thursday morning. The brief story is OK–but the headline is simply not supported by either the poll or any other information provided in the story:

“Book News: AP Poll Says Reading Is Down”

The poll said nothing of the sort.. I know. I’ve read the entire report. It simply does not provide historical context. Go read it yourself if you don’t believe me (or search “AP/Ipsos Reading” at Google if you want an HTML version instead of the PDF just linked to).

I left feedback Friday morning pointing out the error. That feedback has not been acknowledged; neither has the unjustified headline been changed.

Postscript, 9/14/07: It’s been a week. Neither case has been corrected. I will henceforth assume that LJ Online’s “feedback” mechanism isn’t actually intended for feedback–or at least not feedback that questions the original report. As for the blogger who got the story 100% wrong: She still has it 100% wrong; maybe she doesn’t read email. Or maybe she just doesn’t care. Sad either way.

3 Responses to “What’s wrong with this picture?”

  1. I was mulling over the same thing. There was a figure in a recent threnody about the persistence of the decline of book reviewing by Steve Wasserman: “In 1937, Gallup found that only 29 percent of all adults read books; in 1955, the percentage had sunk to 17 percent. Fifteen years later, in 1970, the club evidently no longer could bear to know, and Gallup stopped asking.”

    Oddly enough, though, people keep asking and the answer is always bad news, no matter how good it is.

    I’m beginning to think the real problem is not literacy but numeracy.

  2. walt says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I picked up your quote–or at least I picked up those Gallup figures, and I think it was from you–as part of the 2,000-word piece I wrote about reporting on the AP/Ipsos poll…and recounting my comments when NEA was doing its ashes-and-sackcloth number over the 2002 report.

    As for numeracy…don’t get me started.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. In re “This particular blog only accepts comments from some in crowd,” don’t discount that the comment and even the email are going straight to some spam bucket, especially if you’re linking to any other sites. My blog gets so much spam I have to trust my spam-catcher, and sometimes it’s wrong. I assume if Askimet makes errors on my blog, it makes errors on most WordPress blogs that are using it.