Alas, the editorial scenario which Scott McConnell describes sounds all too plausible. This sort of disastrous cost-cutting has plagued for years the field of medico-legal transcription, where I was employed for most of the 1990s.

Back in August 2004 Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on how this industry’s standards in England were being comprehensively (although perhaps inadvertently) sabotaged by the First World mania for farming out transcribing work to India. The results – however inexpensive – were, let us say, linguistically challenged.

Quite apart from the fact that the difference between transcribing “15 milligrams” versus “50 milligrams” could literally kill a patient, some of the other erroneous transcriptions were pretty bizarre. According to that Telegraph article:

A drug for stomach ulcers called Lansoprazole was transcribed as the much more familiar holiday destination of Lanzarote. Information about a patient’s ‘phlebitis left leg’ was typed out as ‘flea bite his left leg’. A ‘below knee amputation’ was transcribed as ‘baloney amputation’ and ‘Eustachian tube malfunction” was given as ‘Euston station tube malfunction.’

And yet the outsourcing goes on. A business executive in my own city (Melbourne, Australia) recently complained to me about the illiteracies abounding in editorial work he’d commissioned from Bangladesh, where the going hourly rate was $6. Well, I murmured, have you thought of putting the work in the direction of a local copy-editor whose first language is English? He must’ve assumed that I was touting for employment, because he immediately shot back: “Nah, you’re too expensive.”

Ah well, I should’ve known that we First Worlders are to blame for everything.