How does a typo lead to unexplained cell death? How does the slope of a line cause a plane to crash?
Questions like these arise from errors made in textbooks that are not caught by copyeditors before the book is published. As a student, I am barely staying afloat amid the sea of textbooks I must master before earning my degree. Just one error in a key formula or math problem could be detrimental to my understanding of the key concepts I will need to apply in the workforce.
Say, for instance, that someone makes a simple typo while composing a chapter regarding biological membranes, turning a hypotonic solution into a hypertonic solution. The problem here is that hypertonic solutions cause blood cells to shrink, while hypotonic solutions cause them to expand and burst. Think of the potential consequences of a doctor treating patients with blood disorders who confuses when cells shrink and when they burst. This kind of copyediting error, while small, could be disastrous if it leads to unexpected cell death.
Or, for example, that someone records the slope of a line incorrectly on a diagram of the cooling process for heated materials like nickel super alloys, which are used in the composition of turbine discs in jet engines. The slope of the lines correlates to the path of cooling. An inaccurate slope would lead a scientist or engineer to expect a different response to heat treatment than what happens in reality. This means that we could have jet engine parts degrading earlier in the life cycle than expected. The disc breaking would cause catastrophic failure in the jet engine, crashing the plane, most often during takeoff or landing.
From cell death to plane crashes, small errors in textbooks can have a huge impact. Yet these errors are extremely prevalent in science related textbooks – textbooks that we pay $150-$200 for. Shouldn’t we hold these valuable resources – the basis of our education – to higher standards? How can we be held accountable to be knowledgeable in our fields of study if the material we are being taught from is subpar?
This just goes to show how important it is to have professional writers in science related fields. If you have any stories about errors in textbooks, I would love to hear them.