SDStaff wrong?

Has any staff report ever gotten the answer wrong? I mean totally booted the question asked, not just gotten a few details wrong or been found wrong by later research.

I know of three instances where Cecil has been wrong; I’m wondering how the staff collectively stacks up to Cecil.

Does. Not. Compute.

Well guys, looks like it’s time to get The Rack ready. And the Ducking Stool. And the Comfy Chair.

WIll you share these three instances with us?

The staff reports have always seemed correct to me. I can’t think of an instance in which one has been proven wrong.

Cecil is never wrong, he thought he was wrong once but it turns out he was mistaken.

I’ll share four (of Cecil’s):

[li]his original Monty Hall answer[/li][li]whether or not the stroboscopic affect really happens apart from film or fluorescence[/li][li]Were flea circuses real?[/li][li]Does the “singing can break glass” phenomenon exist?[/li][/ul]


Flea Circus:

Stroboscopic effect:

(and my contribution to its correction):

Monty Hall:

Opera singer shatter glass:

Fleas “What I’m guilty of here is not making myself so numbingly explicit that no one could possibly mistake my meaning. My apologies. You do the best you can, but there’s always someone who’s not going to get it.

In Monty Hall, Cecil wasn’t 'wrong" he just didn’t give a complete answer given all the assumptions made. His answer was too short, not wrong.

As far as Opera singers and crystal goes, they duplicated that on TV in Mythbusters.

Not wrong, sorry.

In what way was that article substantially wrong? The Mythbusters did, in fact, actually videotape a performer shattering a glass with his own, unamplified voice.

He missed, in his original answer, a giant elephant in the room: flea circuses involved dead, or non-existent, fleas. Then he backpedalled in his response.

Claiming he just wasn’t explicit? Sorry, I don’t buy it. I don’t see how you could know flea circuses involved mostly illusory and/or dead fleas and not feel that was important in the answer.

Too short? How? One of his “new assumptions” was that Monty Hall will never show you the curtain with the big prize. You believe his claim that that was not implicit in the original question. I don’t know what “Let’s Make a Deal” you watched, but it’d pretty stupid to have Monty Hall show which curtain had the grand prize.


is an admission of being wrong.

OK. I haven’t seen that episode. The last this got left in Cecil’s column, he (as you probably read from my cite), backpedalled and admitted he didn’t have a documented case (and the Wikipedia cite claims he’s the first documented - not that I believe Wikipedia more than Cecil. And he certainly was not the first - the legend started from somewhere - given that it’s demonstrably possible, it must reasonably have started from a real case).

But now there is a documented case. His original answer was largely correct then.

I take that one out.

That still leaves three, of course.

Cecil has on occasion corrected some of his earlier columns:

Do crocodiles shed tears? (revisited)

This column has also been revised, though I have been unable to locate the update in the archives:

What are 5 ways to get to 1st without hitting the ball?

Don’t forget What’s the meaning of the expression, “That’s the exception that proves the rule?” in which Cecil sayeth:

There was a report by “guest Tom Robinson” a while ago on the origin of the golfing term “skins.”

What’s the origin of a “skins game” in golf?.

This was an unfortunate event. There is no evidence in print(that I have found) to indicate that the origin of the “skins” game goes back much before the middle of the 20th century in the USA.

The idea that it has anything to do with animal skins and golf in Scotland in the way-distant past is just falderol.

I hope to do a report on golfing terms and their origins in the next year.

I’m pretty sure that Cecil had a column about…asthma or something, where he gave the wrong advice (though it had been what was thought to be the correct advice by the medical community at the time.) I can’t recall what the disease was though, and I’m not sure whether the article was retrofitted or not, and otherwise am not sure how to find it.

He was also wrong about Lewis Carrol. When first asked about Lewis and little girls, Cecil said there was nothing peculiar going on–just to have the news break a while later about Lewis Carrol and his photography subjects… Or at least so I recall his note on the page saying.

As to the Staff Reports, I suspect that they are of at least equal quality as Cecil’s. I.e. correct to everyone’s best knowledge now, but who knows which will turn wrong given 30 years. But since none of them are 30 years old…

OK, the three errors that I had in mind when I started this thread were 1) Monty Hall[sup]1[/sup], 2) Why do you blow on coffee to cool it, but on your hands to warm them? and 3) the radio call signs column which doesn’t seem to be in the archive, but the correction is (and is what the link is to). In this last one, Cecil basically got the gist of the answer right, but got so many details wrong, that I’m not sure he should get credit. Your judgement may vary on this one.

As far as the flea circus column goes, that would fall under the few details wrong category. And for the incorrect advice on asthma, that would fall under the “later research” exception. The Lewis Carroll column certainly did mention the nude pictures Dodgson took of young girls, but Cec still figured he was “mostly harmless”. But that’s more of a judgement call than a statement of fact.

OK, the crocodile tears one is an error for sure. Ditto the exception proves the rule, although that one is a bit less cut and dried. For the stroboscoptic effect, I’ll mark him half wrong.

So there are 5 or 6 times when Ed’s editing made Cecil look like he made an error (you guys happy with this formulation?) and so far only one major error in a staff report. That doesn’t tell us that Cecil was more apt to make mistakes. There are many more of Cecil’s columns than staff reports. Plus Cecil sometimes answers more than one question in a column (as he did in the croc’s tears case). We’d have to get numbers on how many questions each of them have answered before we can judge which is more error prone.
[sup]1[/sup] I’m not going to argue about this one. Far too many electrons have given their all in fruitless on-line arguments about it. Let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned, Cecil blew this one big time.

I’m sure Cecil has been wrong (on purpose, of course, to make sure we keep on our toes), but the flea circus thing is just silly. If anyone read that column and came away believing Cecil thought circus fleas were trained, played whist, played music and so forth, I suggest the error lies with the reader, not with Cecil. I mean, come on.

I’m not suggesting Cecil said that. I said there’s a gigantic error of omission in not noting fleas were mostly dead (and I think he did mean that they were made so they could only move one way literally, which implies live fleas), or simply non-existent.

The fact that Cecil’s response was to pretend people were complaining about something else is, well, Cecil.

The What does “SOS” mean? Staff Report is at best incomplete and includes a few charming UL’s – such as the idea that “OSO” was ever considered – that shouldn’t have been included as fact. Luckily Wikipedia now exists, so I was able to to put together a comprehensive review of the topic at Wikipedia – SOS.

Cecil’s recent column on global warming is just plain wrong. His old column on Elizabeth Bathory can’t exactly be shown as wrong but demonstrates amazing gullibility. There are undoubtedly more than that. The idea that some anonymous guy, despite being the onje this site is made for, is incapable of being wrong is fanwank hero worship at its worst.

Then there’s Cecil’s column on beer and ice water the last para of which is wrong insofar as it suggests that there is a direct easily calculable causal relationship between drinking cold liquids and “staying thin” by burning additional calories. The issue is discussed here.