Sunday, October 04, 2009

Innumeracy in a Ken Goddard mystery

From Ken Goddard, First Evidence, Bantam Books, 1999:

[the scientists sequence some alien DNA and find two new bases, M and J, in addition to the usual 4]

"The average DNA molecule is made up of approximately three billion base pairs ... code units, whatever," Jody said, as much to herself as the other two. "Which gives us six possible codes instead of four at the first base-pair position; a total of thirty-six possibilities instead of sixteen in the first two positions; one hundred and ninety-eight possibilities instead of sixty-four in the first three..."

Yup, Jody actually claimed that 63 = 198.

And, one page later, we find one of the most unintentionally funny lines I've ever seen in a mystery novel:

[they're discussing what creatures with this unsual DNA might look like]

"But what would you do with a DNA molecule like this?" Melissa asked, her dark eyes gleaming with excitement. "What
could you do?"

"If this were human DNA, I'll bet you could change your shape at will," Jody Catlin ventured.

Yup, that's exactly what I would first guess.


Eamon Knight said...

M and J, huh? Does he supply full names to justify the initials? Or is he afraid of long words like "adenosine"?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Just named for two characters in the book - I didn't mention it for fear it would distract from the point...

Ken Goddard said...

LOL!! :)
I receive all kinds of interesting comments about my novels, many of which probe more-or-less gently into my mental health ... but you're the first to catch me at a sadly simple math error. I suppose I could claim that my character Jody had other distracting problems going on at the time (perfectly true), but the reality is that I probably tried to multiply 6x6x6 on a nearby notepad pad at night, instead of making the extra effort to use the computer's calculator ... and the inevitable happened. BTW: finally got the third book , Final Disposition, up on the eBook sites. Still trying to talk a publisher into turning it into a tree-based book. Thus the basic writer credo: never give up your day job. :)