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Apology to George A. Romero

This came in the email one day last year:

Good Afternoon Mr. Gelman,

I am reaching out to you on behalf of Pearson Education who would like to license an excerpt of text from How Many Zombies Do You Know? for the following, upcoming textbook program:

Title: Writing Today
Author: Richard Johnson-Sheehan and Charles Paine
Edition: 3
Anticipated Pub Date: 01/2015

For this text, beginning with “The zombie menace has so far,” (page 101) and ending with “Journal of the American Statistical Association,” (409-423), Pearson would like to request US & Canada distribution, English language, a 150,000 print run, and a 7 year term in all print and non-print media versions, including ancillaries, derivatives and versions whole or in part.

The requested material is approximately 550 words and was originally published March 31, 2010 on

If you could please look over the attached license request letter and return it to us, it would be much appreciated. If you need to draw up an invoice, please include all granted rights within the body of your invoice (the above, underlined portion). . . .

I decided to charge them $150 (I had no idea, I just made that number up) and I sent along the following message:

Also, at the bottom of page 2, they have a typo in my name (so please cross that out and replace with my actual last name!) and also please cross out “Author: George A. Romano”. Finally, please cross out the link ( and replace by:

I got the $150 and they told me they’d send me a copy of the book. And last month it came in the mail. So cool! I’ve always fancied myself a writer so I loved the idea of having an entry in a college writing textbook. (Yeah, yeah, I know some people say that college is a place where kids learn how to write badly. Whatever.)

I quickly performed what Yair calls a “Washington read” and found my article. It’s right there on page 266, one of the readings in the Analytical Reports chapter. B-b-b-ut . . . they altered my deathless prose!

– They removed the article’s abstract. That’s fine, the abstract wasn’t so funny.

– My name in the author list pointed to the following hilarious footnote which they removed: “Department of Statistics, Columbia University, New York. Please do not tell my employer that I spent any time doing this.”

– George A. Romero’s name in the author list pointed to the following essential footnote which they removed: “Not really.”

– They changed “et al.” to “et. al.” That’s just embarrassing for them. Making a mistake is one thing, but changing something correct into a mistake, that’s just sad. It reminds me of when one of my coauthors noticed the word “comprises” in the paper I’d written and scratched it out and replaced it with “is comprised of.” Ugh.

– They removed Section 4 of the paper, which read:

Technical note

We originally wrote this article in Word, but then we converted it to Latex to make it look more like science.

Ouch. That hurts.

But the biggest problem was, by keeping Romero’s name on the article and removing the disclaimer, they made it look like Romero actually was involved in this silly endeavor. Indeed, in their intro they refer to “the authors,” and after they refer to “Gelman and Romero’s article.” That’s better than “Gleman and Romano,” but, still, it doesn’t seem right to assign any of the blame for this on Romero. I’d have no problem sharing the credit but I have no idea how he’d feel about it.

At least they kept in the ZDate joke.

P.S. Overall I’m happy to see my article in this textbook. But it’s funny to see where it got messed up.


  1. Elin says:

    I think you have an unclosed em tag somewhere.

  2. iyh says:

    Pinch hitter syndrome!

  3. zbicyclist says:

    Romero probably has an estate. Should you proactively contact them to explain this?

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