Why is it so Difficult for People to Admit an Error?

By Patricia L Johnson

Yesterday I was reading an article from one of the major newspapers that also happens to be the one I consider most reliable when it comes to reporting the news. For that reason I’m not going to name the newspaper, the article or the author.

The reason the article even caught my attention is due to the fact I had been working on a chart on the same subject earlier in the day. The article covered a different period of time with the author stating the last year listed in the article as the most recent year of available statistics.

I had just physically looked at the report, so I knew the year listed wasn’t the most recent data available and it seemed most odd to me that this particular author was using 22 years of statistics, when the annual reports are written in overlapping 10-year increments. If you have 24 years of data available why would you only use 22 years of stats?

There was just something about the way the article was written that seemed questionable so I decided I would write the author and ask if it would be possible to view their data source.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I had a reply in my inbox from this person indicating the source used was the very same source I had used for the chart I prepared. In addition, a second link was included for the same report from five years earlier.

I looked at the second report and was truly shocked. This reporter was attempting to show a decline in a certain event over a period of time, and instead of starting with any of the 10-year periods included in either of the two reports, apparently went back over the 24 year period and found the year with the highest number in order to begin the comparison.

Not being able to leave well enough alone I sent a second e-mail to this person asking how they could say one particular year was the most recent available when the link they sent me had the most current year, and basically accusing the person of picking and choosing numbers, rather than reporting the facts. The year chosen as the starting point was 66 points, or close to 10% higher than the number that should have been used and 10 percent is fairly large when you’re you are making comparisons.

I truly expected the reporter to at least acknowledge the errors, whether or not the person chose to make any corrections, but instead I received a reply telling me I could think what I wanted, that there was no plot to distort reality and why should they even care?

The reason the person should care is because if they are a reporter working for one of the largest newspapers in the world they have an obligation to their readers to provide them the best possible information on what is happening in this country, not their particular biased version of the news.

Instead of sending a third e-mail and telling the reporter exactly what I thought, I sent an e-mail simply stating I apologized.

I didn’t apologize because I was in any way wrong, but because life is really too short to be bothered with someone that doesn’t have the hutzpah to acknowledge people are human and make mistakes, even those that consider themselves perfect.

© 2014 Patricia L Johnson

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2 Responses to Why is it so Difficult for People to Admit an Error?

  1. Administrator says:

    Good Morning Richard,

    Yes, in this particular instance I believe you can and should. Many reporters use research assistance and although the reporter should make every effort to ensure the research is absolutely 100% correct, if it is a reporter that has worked with the assistant for many years they probably have a general idea as to the quality of the research provided to them and don’t do as much checking. In that instance I believe it is fair to call it an error rather than an intentional misrepresentation of the facts.

  2. Can you call an intentional effort to distort and misrepresent an error?

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