To Err is to be Hmuan

Will Amor 5 May 2014

In my article last week ,there were a few errata. Reading mistakes in the press frustrates me, so I was devastated to hear that I had fallen into that trap myself. There was an obvious grammatical mistake, and some of the links failed. I then blamed the editor, who told me later that it was indeed my fault, and that I had misrepresented his views in the article. And also on facebook. And also when I told my friends. Sorry.

The Union also memorably made a typo last week , and WhichMayBall erroneously posted details about Justin Timberlake’s appearance at Trinity this year. We discussed it on TCS on the radio, a show rife with errors (and stimulating political discussion). But even in our own article about a huge error , we ourselves slipped up.

Remember that time we tweeted ourselves?                            Image Credit: @TCSNewspaper

The article claims ‘In the past, the Ball has been classed as third in the Vanity Fair’s shortlist as one of the world's best and most exclusive parties.’ Indeed, this is one of those Cambridge curiosities you hear all the time as a fresher and which come up perennially in any discussion of Trinity or its May Ball, coupled with the ‘fact’ that Time Magazine rated it as the seventh best party. It is cited as fact on the Trinity May Ball Wikipedia page , but curiously the citations lead not to Vanity Fair nor Time Magazine, but instead Varsity and the Daily Mail. This is simply because there haven’t been any such features in those magazines: the earliest reference I could find to this was in the 2007 May Week edition of Varsity

The lovely WhichMayBall.

It seems likely that there was an oral tradition attributing these accolades to Trinity before the article as the reporter only mentions it fleetingly. However, this article provides the citation for Wikipedia to publish it as fact, which in turn provides a citation for anyone else who wishes to publish it. This effect is in effect ‘citogenesis’, which was explored in the webcomic xkcd. However, the publication of this article online will finally provide a citation to the contrary, so Wikipedia can be corrected, its reliability restored and this bizarre myth will be recognised as that: a myth. Please. Let's sort it out.

Cambridge is a place which seems to abound in such legends, as Wikipedia can again inform us all about.  Much as that article is the source of punt guides' knowledge, Wikipedia describes common misconceptions taught in schools and in the world beyond Girton. There is, however, one final source of confusion in Cambridge I would like to address. 

I am always surprised at how few people are aware of how degrees are awarded by the University. Pretty much every single institute of higher education in the world provides classifications or grades on their degrees to give an indicator of how successfully a candidate has done in his/her exams, but Cambridge once again has its own, completely different, utterly archaic motives. Traditionally, what was important was when you got your MA, as this allows you to vote in the Senate for the Chancellor and High Steward, and formerly for the University’s MP (a position once famously held by Sir Isaac Newton). But of course, to get the Cambridge MA (not to be confused with Cambridge, MA (ok yes it is going to get confused), you have to have the BA. This is why scientists are studying for a BA rather than a BSc. To get the BA, you must have completed two Parts of a Tripos. So, what the University cares about is not so much what you studied or how well, but only that you passed. Apart from the name, everyone gets the exact same BA certificate, whether you got a Third in History at Magdalene or a Starred First in Maths at Fitzwilliam. But here’s what people don’t know: there is no official classification for your degree. It simply doesn’t matter to the University. Here is the link where it unequivocally states that fact. 

So, now you know, you can take that revision a little easier in the knowledge that presenting an employer with your degree certificate will show nothing more than that you passed some degree with some score at some college at the University of Cambridge.



Editor's note. All errors in this article are intended, except for the ones which aren't.