I’m always amused when a reviewer points out minor typos and inaccuracies in a book and then pats themselves on the back as if they’ve destroyed the main argument of the book. My point for bringing this up is at the end of the post.
Yes, it’s sloppy scholarship to get information like dates and names wrong. Sometimes the errors are so egregious as to render an entire work suspect. (For example, I once heard a lecture in which the speaker kept referring to “George Wesley” and “John Whitefield.” He obviously did not know what he was talking about; and not just because he kept calling them the wrong names.) But most of the time, this is not the case and we can give the author the benefit of the doubt.
In scholarly writing, such mistakes are inexcusable. But sometimes these errors are not the result of sloppy scholarship but sloppy editing, sloppy proofing, sloppy printing, etc. Sometimes the fact-checkers are just plain wrong. There are so many steps between the manuscript and the finished product that we have to give author the benefit of the doubt except when it comes to outright plagiarism.
You also have to consider that such historical “fact” is often not as easy as we’d like to think.
For example, do we date the Canons of Dort at 1610, because that’s when the council responsible for them convened and that is the date given to the council, or do we date them at 1618 because that’s when they were actually published? (I usually see 1610 but often they are dated 1618.) It’s easy to see how one could become the other in editing, printing, etc. And really, either is accurate depending on how you look at it.
Names are also a problem sometimes because there was often no standard convention for names until well into the twentieth century (as anyone who’s done their genealogy knows). Especially when dealing with historical figures of minor historical note the problem gets worse. Theology is my area of expertise and many theologians could be cited by more than one name. For example, John Calvin was Jean Cauvin in his native French but published his Latin Institutes under his Latin name, Johannes Calvinus. He’s so well known we probably wouldn’t get confused there (but that’s assuming the editor, fact-checker, and proofer knows as much as the scholar does). With minor personages, however, it’s very easy to get confused. When you have a Guillaume and a William with limited writings and history it can get even more confusing.
My point is this: Just because you point out some factual errors: a date that’s a little off, a name misspelled, or some other minor error isn’t the same as answering the guys argument. It’s sloppy scholarship, yes, but pointing out that the guy wrote 1613 instead of 1614 or anglicized the name Guillaume to William doesn’t destroy his overall argument.
Pointing out what amounts to possible typos or printer’s mistakes doesn’t mean you’ve answered the author’s argument. If it makes you feel better to point out errors, then by all means go ahead, but at some point, you’ll actually have to interact with the author’s arguments if you’re going to review the book. So quit pointing out typos and actually engage the author and his arguments or quit reviewing books.