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August 15, 2008

One mystery solved, another remains

Panth_int2

I've always wondered how many people do things like submit a correction when they espy an error in something they read.

It's so much easier now that there's the Internet — I suspect many more readers actually go to the trouble than would have back in the snail mail day.

Anyway, when I read in an article about Hadrian that "He commissioned the Parthenon..." in the July 19, 2008 issue of The Economist (in my opinion the least likely of the many publications I regularly read to err) I immediately headed for the treadmill and slugged an email "letters@economist.com," in which I pointed out that Hadrian was responsible not for the Parthenon (built during the 5th century B.C.) but, rather, the Pantheon (circa 125 A.D. and pictured up top in a virtual reality reconstruction of what it might have looked like during Hadrian's reign).

In the next issue of The Economist (July 26, 2008) at the bottom of column one on page 97 appeared the following:

    Correction

    Our review last week of the British Museum's new exhibition, "Hadrian: Empire and Conflict," mistakenly reported that the Roman emperor Hadrian commissioned the Parthenon. It is, of course, the Pantheon this is Hadrian's most famous monument. Our thanks to the 46 readers who have written in to point this out, and our apologies for the howler.

....................

So now I know that I'm one in 46.

So much for one in a million.

But I digress.

That number 46 has sent me into speculative heaven since it appeared, because for the first time I get a sense of the relative numbers in something like this.

As I noted above, I've always wondered how many people notice errors and what percentage respond actively.

Back in the day I would've guessed one in a hundred but now I'd offer one in 20 to 1 in 40, considering how much easier — and more satisfying, to be sure — it is to react with an email than a stamped letter pointing out some miscue.

So for the sake of argument let's say one in 30 readers who noticed the Hadrian error contacted The Economist.

That means around 1,500 people registered the mistake.

Now things start to get hazy as we wonder how many people read the Hadrian article of those who read The Economist.

I'd guess 5%, since the article was towards the back of the magazine and I suspect the great majority of Economist readers peruse primarily the news and business-related sections up front.

The Economist's circulation is about 1.3 million, so 5% would be 65,000 — assuming (a huge assumption again) that the great majority of copies are seen by only one person.

So we're left with 46 people of 1,500 who noticed an error of the 65,000 who read the story.

1,500 is about 2% of 65,000, pretty close to my 1% rule of thumb for most things.

That is, if there's a penny on the sidewalk, 1% of people will pick it up.

If there's a hat or a glove at the side of the road, 1% of people will take it.

Besides, 1% is such a cool number.

You got a better one?

August 15, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

ZMG! A bible quote that matches something!

Who'd a thunk it?

blasphemer

Posted by: RocketBlasphemer | Nov 7, 2008 8:59:29 PM

Your math is consistent with Matthew 7:14 ... narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.

Posted by: | Nov 7, 2008 8:18:43 PM

Your math is consistent with Matthew 7:14 ... narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.

Posted by: | Nov 7, 2008 8:18:39 PM

Your math is consistent with Matthew 7:14 ... narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.

Posted by: | Nov 7, 2008 8:18:36 PM

Your math is consistent with Matthew 7:14 ... narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.

Posted by: | Nov 7, 2008 8:18:05 PM

Zero.

As in the other half of a digital ying-yang. The computers we are using are nothing but 1010101010101010111010.

Also, the number Zero is not of Roman origin.

Anyways, mathematically proving uniqueness is empowering :-) Have a great weekend!

Posted by: Nikolas Schiller | Aug 15, 2008 11:52:26 PM

Smartness becomes you Joe.

Posted by: Milena | Aug 15, 2008 4:26:57 PM

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