Saturday, December 6, 2008

Can You Say "Faux Pas" In Mandarin?

The Max Planck Institute, for those unfamiliar with it or its namesake, is a respected scientific research organization. Recently, they made an embarrassing error that should have and could have been avoided.

Was it an issue of scientific integrity?
Was it a retraction?
Was it a tacit endorsement of psuedoscience?

No to all. It turns out that the MaxPlanckForschung, their journal, doing a special edition on China, printed an ad for a strip club on the cover, instead of what should have been a Chinese poem. Their response to discovering the mistake:

Dear Colleagues,

The cover of the most recent German-language edition of MaxPlanckForschung (3/2008) depicts a Chinese text which had been chosen by our editorial office in order to symbolically illustrate the magazine's focus on "China". Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature.

Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a translation of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context. To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.

By publishing this text we did in no way intend to cause any offence or embarrassment to our Chinese readers. The editors of MaxPlanckResearch sincerely regret this unfortunate error and would like to offer an unreserved apology to all of their Chinese readers for any upset or distress they may have caused.

The cover title has already been substituted in the online edition, and the English version of MaxPlanckForschung (MaxPlanckResearch, 4/2008) will be published with a different title.

We would ask you to forward this information to all Chinese scientists at your Institute. Please find attached the new version of the title. Perhaps you can distribute this print-out within your institute.


Tip of the jade-like hat in the spring of youth to Fark.


  1. Wow. That's a fantastically bad (but hilarious) mistake!

  2. Wow. That's a fantastically bad (but hilarious) mistake!


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