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spires from Carfax

annoying inaccuracies and errors

Books + Ideas, , — February 2018

This is an portmanteau post for all the annoying inaccuracies I come across, in books or talks or displays, that are too small to warrant posts of their own.

  • The Charles River A History of Ancient Athens for Children contains this gem: "Athens had a lot of olives to sell. They also had a lot of grain. Grain was used to make bread. Athens could sell this stuff to other people." (In fact Athens had to import huge amounts of grain; Solon had even passed a law banning its export.) This "book" is also notable for (as far as I can tell) not including a single compound sentence: it should perhaps have been titled For Toddlers instead of For Children.
  • Visiting the Science Museum in London, we watched a Balloon Show that was a lot of fun. But, after demonstrating that a square frame produced spherical bubbles just like a round frame did, the presenter explained this as the bubble trying to contain as much air as possible... Actually, of course, the amount of air contained is set on creation, and the spherical form results from the membrane attempting to minimise its surface area (and thus its energy).
  • In the same visit we watched the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet. At one point one of the speakers referred to people having settled Australia "over 30,000 years ago" (60,000 might be debatable, but 40,000 is not). And later there was a reference to the Maori settling New Zealand "in tiny canoes" (Cook encountered Polynesian double canoes longer than the Endeavour and, while not as capacious or robust, faster and more manoeuvrable).
  • Two of the books Helen got for Christmas were Usborne early readers science books, The Solar System and Planet Earth. The first contains the whopper "Scientists think that the Solar System formed millions and millions of years ago" (even small people can learn the difference between a million and a billion). And the second has lots of "not quite right" phrasings, as well as some inaccuracies. It says "Stalactites and stalagmites are built up over thousands of years from tiny grains of rock carried into the cave by dripping water" (actually they come from minerals dissolved in the water precipitating). And it explains metamorphic and igneous rocks as "cooked deep in the Earth's crust, where it is very hot" and "formed when lava from a volcano cools in the air and turns hard" (instead of as rocks modified by heating and rocks that have crystalised from molten lava or magma).

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