Brown M&Ms and a Reader’s Trust

My old grad-school friend Jonathan Mayhew explains: “Van Halen stipulated in their riders to tour contracts a bowl of M&Ms without the brown ones. This has often been taken to be typical rock-band high-maintenance narcissistic self-regard and self-indulgence, but this clause actually served a deeper purpose, serving as a marker of attention to detail. … Of course, the consequence of messing up a Van Halen concert might be very serious: death, if a stage collapses because a promoter has not paid attention to how much weight it has to support. The consequence of brown M&Ms is less severe. In writing, the consequence of messing up the small things is that the reader will lose faith that the writer is to be trusted in the communication of scholarly knowledge.”

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