I caught this gem on Geekologie who apparently got it from the Daily What. The Associated Press story (seen here on Yahoo News) might have just have been a bit hyperbolic with its headline “Northeast braces for temps near boiling point”, but that’s only until you read the lead.
The extreme heat that’s been roasting the eastern U.S. is only expected to get worse, and residents are bracing themselves for temperatures near and above boiling point. (emphasis mine)
It’s a head-scratcher. The boiling point of water would be 212 degrees fahrenheit, and if we’re being even more generous and allow that the writer was describing the boiling point of the atmosphere, the three major components of ‘air’ boil at differing temperatures: oxygen (-297 °F), nitrogen (-321°F) and carbon dioxide (70 °F only at pressures in excess of 5.1 atmospheres). The writer would still be off by quite a bit.
Now, being a copy editor myself who has once or twice overlooked some silly factual errors, I tend to be generous to other gatekeepers of textual accuracy to some extent. In fact, I tend to think the problem goes far deeper than the last person to take a look before pushing an article live in some cases. When simple factual errors such as the above are overlooked, I chalk it up to the factory-like process of delivering news like its some mass-produced widget with madcap, zany speed like that episode of ‘I Love Lucy’.
In the 24-hour-news-cycle, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to take a breath and make sure to kick every tire three or four times before sending a story on its way.
Further compounding the ridiculousness of this article is the fact that it was posted four days ago on Friday, July 22nd, and its received dozens and dozens of comments pointing out the error. The story has been derided on a number of sites other than the blogs mentioned above, and yet still it remains unchanged as of this post. While I understand that the AP might not be able to do followup audits of all of its stories, nor many of the other outlets that distribute AP stories, I can’t imagine, the Internet being the way it is, that someone hasn’t contacted an editor or just some feedback email of some kind pointing out this mistake.