Chemistry Textbook Errotica

The world’s hardest textbooks to proofread must be about mathematics.  The same letter can (and often does) mean different things when in bold type, italics or just in an unadorned font.  In the past 10 years, mathematicians have dealt with this by putting errata pages on the web.  For an example see http://www.cs.amherst.edu/~dac/galois/typos.ps. This, in an excellent book on Galois theory by David Cox, math prof. at Amherst college.  Note also that there is a separate compilation of errors for each printing of the book.

Chemistry texts should also be this way, but the one’s I’ve been involved with have not been.  It you look at my notes on Clayden’s wonderful text “Organic Chemistry” just about each post in the series (https://luysii.wordpress.com/category/claydens-book/) contains an error that I think I’ve found.

As part of my New Year’s Resolutions I started Anslyn and Dougherty.  It’s great.  I wrote Dougherty asking if there was an errata page and got this back.

“I appreciate your interest in our book, and I hope you enjoy it.  There is no errata page.  However, we have made scores of changes over the years.  Every time there is a new print run, we can make any changes we like, so long as it does not lead to major repagination. If you have the most recent version, all the corrections will be in there.  The current printing is number 4, which you can identify at the bottom of the page that has the Library of Congress info, ISBN …   At the very bottom, numbers count down from 10; if your version stops at 4, it is the latest one.

We are constantly collecting corrections – although we have very few now, so maybe we are close to done.  I would be happy to hear from you if you find any problems with the book.”

Hartwig’s book “Organotransition Metal Chemistry” claims to have an errata page at http://www.uscibooks.com, but if there is one, I can’t find it at their site.

This shouldn’t be.  Granted that most people reading textbooks are to be found in an academic institution learning the subject for the first time, so help is available for them. I doubt that most readers of this blog are at that stage, reading the primary literature instead.  People used to ask me for a good neurology textbook back in the day, but I hadn’t read one since my first year of residency.

However in this day and age, a beginner should not have to be misled by errors known to the author.  Tyros always think that any lack of understanding is their problem not the authors.  Also suppose that each printing of Anslyn and Dougherty is in fact better and more error free than the last.  Students aren’t loaded with money, and many probably buy used copies of the book,  almost guaranteed to be an older printing.  Anslyn and Dougherty have had 4 printings in 5 years (a sign of justified popularity).

Just about every new mathematics text has an errata page (at least the ones, I’ve read).  It’s time for the chemists to start.

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Comments

  • Robert Yager  On March 27, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I wholeheartedly agree that errors should be published on a website. I have just started tutoring high school chemistry after 42 years as an industrial chemist. I purchased one of the popular books designed as an aid to preparing for the AP Chemistry test in May. The publisher had my respect from my past experience with foreign language learnikng materials. I was appalled at the error rate – several major ones per chapter.

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