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The science of book rot

An Associated Press story in The Washington Post reports that a biologist has discovered a new way to date books, a fact that is sure to get fraudsters quaking in their boots and antique book nerds jumping for joy.

“The so-called ‘print clock’ technique incorporates some complicated statistical formulas,” the article says, “But professor Blair Hedges says much of his analysis on 16th and 17th century books and prints was conducted by simply counting the number of discrepancies such as ‘line breaks’ on the same pages in the different editions of a book. An example of a line break would be a faded line in a drawing that may have been bolder in an earlier edition of a book.”

Naysayers claim “breaks or fading may be due to wear and tear during print runs” but Hodges comes right back at ’em with the fact that “breaks occur at a constant rate over time, irrespective of print runs, which, in turn, could help scientists and rare book aficionados alike determine when an undated item was printed.”

His ‘print clock’ technique is similar to the ways scientists determine genetic mutations or, in beyond-Bill-Nye science-speak, “”random radioactive decay of geologic clocks and the random genetic mutations of molecular evolutionary clocks.”

All the better to see how many bucks we can get for that box of books in our basement, we figure.

Related links:
Learn all about book-dating here, courtesy of the Washington Post