Footnote about the Pinker-Gladwell kerfuffle: To discredit Gladwell, Pinker takes advantage of a truly embarrassing mistake (the science-writer’s nightmare) in which Gladwell misspelled “eigenvalue” as “igon value.” (It seems a less successful gambit, though, after you learn that Pinker misspelled “sagittal” in his list of Gladwell’s errors — a mistake which, though now corrected on the NY Times website, lives on in places where the freshly posted review was quoted, like here and here.)
Still . . . transferring doubleness from the t to the g in a word is a mechanical kind of error (explained beautifully here). It doesn’t suggest ignorance of the word’s meaning, so Gladwell’s not even here. The igon-egg remains on his face, and a big question lingers: How could The New Yorker fact-checkers have missed this one?
In fact, they didn’t. As noted in this post at Language Log, the article version of the chapter correctly spells the word “eigenvalue.” (The comments are as rich as the post, by the way — they’re where you’ll find the point about “sagittal” and many interesting byways.)
Seems the manuscript went to both magazine and book editors, and only the magazine editors fixed it. Gladwell’s blog now confirms this with a scan of the original passage as published in The New Yorker.
I don’t understand why Gladwell didn’t take advantage of the magazine’s top-flight checking department. Was this a mechanical accident, the administrative equivalent of misplacing g’s and t’s when spelling a word (maybe he sent the wrong Word file over)? Was it time pressure? Or did he make the chapter so different from the article that he didn’t use the latter as the manuscript for the former?
Anyway, thanks to Carl Zimmer, the science writer’s science writer, for the pointer to Language Log.