Detective Story: The Case of Dimples and ‘Not’ Not Being There

Niels Berg Olsen sent this (fabulously) discerning note:

I enjoyed reading your item on Greek cheek in your fabulous book This is Improbable, Too [Printed and bound in Denmark…”].
I notice a difference in the text in the book and in your news item in the Guardian:
In the Guardian you wrote: “The report explains the significance, if any, of the number 14,141”
In the book the text is better: “The report does not explain the significance, if any, of the number 14,141.”


Detective Work

Intrigued, I checked back in the records. It turns out that my original version had a missing “not” — the missing-ness being obvious because the sentence was blatantly awkward without it. But neither I nor anyone else caught the typo at that first stage, and somehow the text that got printed in the newspaper had been altered. That sentence — without its “not” — had been reworded to remove the awkwardness, which had the effect of reversing the intended meaning.
Years later, when this story of the research about Greek-children’s-dimples was included in one of the book collections of my Guardian columns, the text appeared as it always should have, with the “not” present, not absent.

The lessons, if any, to be drawn here: (1) Don’t immediately believe anything you read anywhere; and (2) the world never has enough proofreaders.

Here’s video of a fun event Melissa Franklin, Gus Rancatore, Corky White, and (the fabulous) Robin Abrahams did at Harvard Book Store, when the book was published:

UPDATE from Denmark

After this blog item appeared, Niels Berg Olsen sent another note. It says:

I have always been impressed, and thankful, for your fast replies to my mails. You probably receives Hell-of-a-Lot of mails each day, due to your position as the Founder-of-the-Ig-Nobel-Prize – and there is a 6 hours time difference between DK:CET and USA:EST!I would appreciate it very much – no, VERY MUCH, if you would publish a follow-up-issue to my favorite books: This is Improbable and This is Improbable, Too. I have read and reread them both many times. You have also helped me with files of some of the source articles, fex sending me a pdf-file of the article about the Danish neck, mentioned in Improbable, Too, p.61. It was not available to me at Danish libraries.Especially interesting for me has of course been the 5 chapters in your first book and the 5 chapters in the second book about Danish publications. I appreciate your humorous, and tongue-in-cheek-attitude very much!

Niels Berg Olsen