Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Harper's Index getting worse?

It's always been my least favorite part of the magazine, a kind of Letterman's top 10 list for pseudo-intellectuals. (I do like the Findings, which I always read first, though they too can be smug and inscrutable.) But the "facts" in the April 2010 Harper's seem especially badly edited. Do they have an intern doing this now?

I mean stuff like this:
Price, from a Michigan company, for a downloadable punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm: $1.99
They have to end it with a number by convention, but come on, that's not the most interesting part of the snippet. If it's going to be so anticlimactic when phrased thusly does it need to be in the index? (They could sneak it into the Findings since there's no citations for those anyway: "Scientists discovered they were charged $1.99 after downloading an emoticon signifying sarcasm.") And this:
Chance that an American adult claims to wash his or her hands at least ten times a day: 1 in 2

Chance that he or she has a specific phobia of some kind: 1 in 10
What does that mean? Why is it interesting? Aren't you supposed to pair facts when the numbers, back to back, are somehow illuminating or amusing?

Lots more of them are similarly dull or meaningless. What's up Harper's Index?


  1. the ~3 times in my life i've looked at a harper's magazine, it was just to look at the index. what can i say, i like fun facts. though not enough to look at them more often, evidently.

  2. I'm all for facts, but these aren't very fun :(

    I'm guessing a lot of people probably get Harper's and only read the Index.

  3. maybe, someday, i'll subscribe to a magazine. #signsofadulthood

  4. It has its ups and its downs. I'm six or seven issues behind and it's kind of a source of guilt.

  5. Chance that Harper's now has an intern doing the Harper's index: um, okay, is 1 in 10 more than 1 in 5, or how does that work? Does this have a deadline?

    (You mean that a person who claims to wash his or her hands at least ten times a day has only a 1 in 10 chance of having a specific phobia of some kind? Are they serious?)

    Proposed (free) punctuation mark emoticon to indicate sarcasm: ;"s

  6. most of the time i like the index but i agree the examples in your post are boring. give it a chance 2 bounce back bro

  7. I'm pretty sure I met someone at a New Yorker softball game who confirmed that this is definitely intern work at Harper's. (do you like how I used pretty sure, confirm, and definitely, all in the same sentence?)

  8. Ha! I think two hedges work like a double negative to make a resounding POSITIVE!

  9. Actually it's not clear if they mean that the person who washes their hands 10+ times a day has a 1 in 10 chance of being phobic or if any American adult does. Anyway that's still dumb because they could be afraid of heights or spiders which have nothing to do with hand-washing.

    Also, I wash my hands every time I pee, and several times while cooking, so I easily wash my hands 10 times a day I think. Gotta stay hydrated. And I'm emphatically not afraid of germs, but I am afraid of heights.