We tell our students not to let errors stand, if we can help it. But sometimes, we just can’t help it, and we’ve got to live with that.
We’ve all had the experience of getting article, review, or book proofs back with instructions: no changes except for typos, major errors, etc. Last month I was in the throes of proofing my upcoming book, and of course there are the usual garden-variety spelling errors, word duplications, and so forth, but then, as I was reading, there I saw it: something that I realized was a clear error of fact, that I had never caught before. What to do?
There was good news and bad news. The good news was that while the error was substantive, it was not problematic. What I mean by that is that I had written that there were four of something, which I then listed, when actually there were five. Fortunately, the fifth item on the list — in this case, African American characters in the children’s series Liberty’s Kids — reinforced the same point, which was that every black character in the show ended up free (that’s a wee bit higher than the percentage of African Americans free at the end of the American Revolution, fewer than 10%).
The bad news was to make things consistent, I would have to add another sentence, for which there’s just not room on the page. I could make a big stink about it, and maybe the press would accept my change by really moving things around. But that would be a real mess, and possibly throw off the index, and cause all sorts of other problems.
I’m left with the sense that there will be an error in my book that I know full well about — and now you do, too. We can’t be perfect all the time.