Scientific American, which was launched 172 years ago, bills itself as the "award-winning authoritative source for the science discoveries and technology innovations that matter."
It's surprising, then, to see it publish such glaring errors regarding basic mathematics.
There's no need to be too hard on contributing author Christophe André, who works as a psychiatrist at Sainte-Anne Hospital, but the opening lines to a post he submitted this week are, to put it bluntly, embarrassing.
"Nearly 2,500 years ago, the Egyptian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia was stoned in public by order of the Bishop of Alexandria," reads the very first sentence in a column titled "Once Again, No Female Nobel Winners in Science."
Let's pause for a moment and break out the abacus.
André's article was published on Oct. 4 on Scientific American's "Voices" page, where the publication is careful to stress the views "are not necessarily those of Scientific American."
Oct. 4, 2017, minus 2,500 years gives 483 B.C.
Alexandria, named for Alexander the Great, was founded in 331 B.C, a full 152 years after the date mentioned in André's lead.
Though one can be forgiven for not knowing the date of the founding of Alexandria, that's not even the real problem in the article's opening sentence.
What's most embarrassing is that André uses the figure 2,500 while talking about a Christian Bishop. Now, we don't want to get too technical here, but the world revolves around the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar, by the way, starts with the birth of Jesus Christ. If you're writing about something in 483 B.C., you're not also going to be writing about a Christian Bishop.
If you think that's bad, wait until you read the very next sentence in André's story: "As the cleric saw it, Hypatia had too many irritating features: she was a woman, a pagan, and in particular much too smart."
We're not going to get too deep into this, but the narrative that the Bishop of Alexandria had Hypatia killed because she was "irritating" is garbage.
Hypatia was indeed murdered, according to an account provided by Socrates of Constantinople, but she was killed for none of the reasons listed by André. Rather, according to what is likely the most reliable account of her death, she was murdered around 415 A.D. by a mob of Christian zealots who believed her rumored counsel to the Roman governor was preventing him from reconciling with the bishop, with whom he was engaged in a bitter power struggle.
Someone over at Scientific American must've noticed the glaring errors in André's post, because they updated it eventually so that the first lines now read, "About 1,600 years ago, the Egyptian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia was stoned in public—according to some accounts, by order of the Bishop of Alexandria, because she was a woman, a pagan, and in particular much too smart." There is no editor's note indicating the change.
Right on the date, still wrong on the history. Scientific indeed.