Facts, Errors and the Kindle


Anthony Gottlieb in A More Intelligent Life:

Nietzsche famously said that there are no such things as facts, only interpretations. Be that as it may, every writer knows that there are certainly such things as factual mistakes. Errors are common in all forms of media, but it is mistakes in the printed word that are perhaps the most pernicious. Once a “fact” has been pressed onto paper, it becomes a trusted source, and misinformation will multiply. The combination of human fallibility with Gutenberg’s invention of efficient printing in 1439 has, for all the revolutionary advantages of the latter, proved (in some respects) to be a toxic mixture.

Periodicals publish corrections in subsequent issues and some successful books are (expensively) reissued in new, improved editions. But in a better world, the book, magazine or newspaper in your hands would itself be updated when mistakes are discovered by its publisher. Thanks to the advent of electronic reading gadgets, like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, such magic is getting closer. Old-fashioned, uncorrectable books may never disappear. Only futurologists—that is, people who specialise in being wrong about the future instead of the present—would dare to predict their utter demise. Yet it is now possible that the tyranny of print will meet some powerful resistance, and that readers will benefit.