Quorum of the Twelve Apostates

A number of people (including the New York Times) wrote about a costly error at Brigham Young University last week that was originally reported by the Utah Valley Daily Herald. The error itself was subtle. First, it is important to realize that Brigham Young is a private university owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., the Mormon Church or LDS for short). The front of the the Daily Universe — the BYU university newspaper — featured a photograph of a group of men who form one of the most important governing bodies in the LDS church with the heading, “Quorum of the Twelve Apostates.”

Quorum of the Twelve Apostates

The caption should have said the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” which is the name of the governing body in question. An apostle, of course, is a messenger or ambassador although the term is most often used to refer to Jesus’ twelve closest disciples. The term apostle is used in LDS to refer to a special high rank of priest within the church. An apostate is something else entirely; the term refers to a person who is disloyal and unfaithful to a cause — particularly to a religion.

Shocked that the paper was labeling the highest priests in the church as disloyal and unfaithful, thousands of copies of the paper (18500 by one report) were pulled from news stands around campus. New editions of the paper with a fixed caption were produced and replaced at what must have been enormous cost to BYU and the Daily Universe.

The source of the error, says the university’s spokesperson, was in a spellchecker. Working under a tight deadline, the person spell-checking the captions ran across a misspelled version of “apostles” in the text. In a rush, they clicked the first term in the suggestion list which, unfortunately, happened to be a similarly spelled near-antonym of the word they wanted.

From a technical perspective, this error is a version of the Cupertino effect although the impact was much more strongly felt than most examples of Cupertino. Like Cupertino, BYU’s small disaster can teach us a whole lot about the power and effect of technological affordances. The spell-checking algorithm made it easier for the Daily Universe’s copy editor to write “apostate” than it was to write “apostle” and, as a result, they did exactly that. A system with different affordances would have had different effects.

The affordances in our technological systems are constantly pushing us toward certain choices and actions over others. In an important way, the things we produce and says and the ways we communicate are the product of these affordances. Through errors like BYU’s, we get a glimpse of these usually-hidden affordances in every-day technologies.

3 thoughts on “Quorum of the Twelve Apostates”

  1. “And when the spirit of persecution, the spirit of hatred, of wrath, and malice ceases in the world against this people, it will be the time that this people have apostatized and joined hands with the wicked, and never until then; which I pray may never come.” (Brigham Young, May 31, 1857, JD 4:326-327)

    …but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old. (D&C 38:39)

    …for if Zion will not purify herself, so as to be approved of in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people; for His work will go on until Israel is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath. (Joseph Smith, TPJS, pg. 18; DHC 1:316)

    I say to you (and what I say to you I say to all), hear the warning voice of God, lest Zion fall, and the Lord swear in His wrath the inhabitants of Zion shall not enter into His rest. (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 19; DHC 1:316)

    I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. (D&C 82:10)

    When “Mormonism” finds favor with the wicked in this land, it will have gone into the shade; but until the power of the Priesthood is gone, “Mormonism” will never become popular with the wicked. “Mormonism” is not one farthing better than it was in the days of Joseph. (Brigham Young, August 31, 1856, JD 4:33)

    Many of this people have broken their covenants by finding fault with the plurality of wives, and trying to sink it out of existence. But you cannot do that, for God will cut you off and raise up another people that will carry out His purposes in righteousness unless you walk up to the line of your duty. On the one hand there is glory and exaltation, and on the other no tongue can express the suffering and affliction this people will pass through if they do not repent. (Heber C. Kimball, September 28, 1856, JD, 4:108)

    But unless the Saints will so live and so exert themselves that they can preserve the purity of the holy Priesthood among them, the work will be left to other people. (George A. Smith, January 3, 1858, JD 6:161)

  2. everyone is human, but that is so funny!  What a funny thing for an official LDS Paper to say about 12 old man that are so self serving!!

    Don in Las Vegas

  3. I was a BYU student when this happened. I went to campus at my usual time and found no papers where they normally were. I went to class deprived of my morning news and comics until the paper came out in the late morning. I about died laughing when a friend of mine who had one of the typoed editions showed me why it had been late!

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