Check repeated information

“Check repeated information” is one item on my copy-editing and proofreading checklist. The reason: information stated in one place in a document may be contradicted somewhere else.

The example above is from the Aug. 24, 2015, Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance–Star. It tells us “About Paul Meltzer,” but as the headline above the sidebar indicates, his name is Metzger.

I found two more examples of this in The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009):

First, page 41 says that the New Horizons spacecraft would travel towards Pluto “at a breakneck 53,000 miles per hour,” but a caption on page 46 says it ould have “a peak speed of 35,000 miles per hour.” It’s not just a transposition error, either, because the text on page 41 equates the speed to “15 miles per second,” while the caption on page 46 gives the “peak speed” as “10 miles a second.” If I’d been editing this book, I would have had to query the author to find out which number was right.

Second, describing the planets display at the American Museum of Natural History, page 78 says that Earth and Venus are represented by spheres “the size of a cantaluope,” but a caption on the facing page says they are the size of “soccer balls.” Maybe in Alaska or someplace, the cantaloupes grow to the size of soccer balls, but as an editor I would have at least queried this or even asked the publisher to send me on a trip to the museum with a canatloupe under one arm and a soccer ball under the other.

“Check arithmetic” is another item on my checklist. Appendix A of this book says that Pluto’s mass is 2.125 x 103 that of Earth. I sent an email to Ron Turner, who does a lot of work for NASA. I said I couldn’t see any way to read it except that Pluto is 2,125 times as massive as Earth. Ron replied that the answer was simple: it was a typo, and there should be a minus sign in front of the superscript.

Otherwise, Tyson’s book is pretty good: In clear and entertaining fashion, Tyson explains how and why Pluto lost its status as a planet: although it’s big enough that its own gravity makes it round, and it has three moons of its own, it is far smaller than any other planet and even smaller than another Kuiper belt object, Eris, and its orbit is terribly eccentric (taking it inside Neptune’s and greatly inclined (17 degrees) compared to the plane of the other planets) and has debris totaling about 15 times Pluto’s mass. The book includes letters from kids, along with cartoons, illustrations, and resolutions by the legislatures of New Mexico and California, plus the International Astronomical Union’s decision on Pluto and the statement of the American Museum of Natural History (where Tyson heads the space center) on why Pluto is omitted from its display of planets.

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