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January 9, 1960


JAMA. 1960;172(2):168. doi:10.1001/jama.1960.03020020048012

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The question is whether men are bound to act like robots when they can set themselves independent goals that are preferable. In dealing with error, Intellect is able to discriminate between trivial and important. Modern readers, as we know, take all facts as equal and rush to fill the correspondence columns with indignation whenever they catch any small mistake in print. For these slips, writers and editors apologize with a humility not seen on earth since the early Church. The expensive apparatus for detecting error before publication grows nearly infallible about trivia, and nearly blind about what matters. A wrong initial in some obscure name is set right, while a colossal nonsequitur is overlooked. In the end this unsuspected lack of balance regulates (if that is the word) the public mind, which then wonders at the state of our education and the qualities of our politics.—J. Barzun, The House of

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