Failure to Fact Check Can Sink Your Ship
Wanna bring a sneer to someone’s face: mention the media, journalism, or reporters. It’s not just their sensationalist if it bleeds it leads mentality. Their quest to be first over factual has left most of us unable to trust anything they write or say. Not to mention the damage done by formerly respected journalists like Brian Williams who seem to find fiction to be more newsworthy than reality. But, those “big” guys have the advantage of familiarity and establishment that seems to, albeit fallaciously, mend the damage caused by their infidelities. Chances are, your readers and would-be patrons aren’t going to be so forgiving.
The difference between what you think you know and what you know
There’s a Goroka (or was it Brene Brown?) saying that “knowledge is only rumor until it’s in the muscle.” This is alluding to the power of empirical experience, meaning that until you’ve actually seen it, done it, and felt it yourself, you’re really just going off of what someone else is telling you, and you don’t actually know it. That’s probably why the psychedelic pastor, Pastor Dave, in the documentary Wonderlust used LSD to examine his personality to the extent of “kicking out anything (he) didn’t put there (himself).”
Of course, we take much of what we know on faith in the messenger. How many of us can actually prove empirically that we went to the moon? Or that all matter is composed of tiny vibrating “strings” of energy? Obviously, until we’re ready to embark on a profoundly spiritual journey, like Pastor Dave, we can’t limit our knowledge base to what we’ve seen for ourselves. That’s why failing to fact-check can have devastating consequences...even if it’s only in your modest blog.
It’s your name on the line
Again, the big guys have cornered the market on suspending our disbelief. The rest of our reputations aren’t anywhere near as bullet proof. Failure to check up on your facts leaves the credibility of your company brand vulnerable and if your potential clients don’t trust you, they’re not going to trust what you’re selling.
You’re responsible...even if your attorney tells you otherwise
You might not be legally liable for failing to check up on your facts, but you’d better be careful or you just might change history! Sounds crazy, right? Do you remember that chart of the tongue, mapping out where we taste sweetness, sour, etc.? If we’re to believe Wikipedia (if we’re to believe LiveScience.com, the crowd sourced encyclopedia tied with Britannica with 42 errors), that taste chart was all based on a mistranslation of a paper written in German! No wonder I never tasted anything when I held a sugar cube to the tip of my tongue. Medical “knowledge” is littered with stories like the taste chart error, the ol' “we only use 10% of our brains” is another completely fictitious mantra of pop-culture...that is, if you believe the neurologists.
How to get it right
Unless conducting your own experiments is practical, ultimately, you’re left with a leap of faith, but it’s still up to you to decide which rock to stand on.
Don’t blindly rely on fact checking sites. While Snopes.com and TheStraightDope.com are great at processing facts for you, realize that A) they are processed, and B) you need to read beyond “true or false.” Sometimes a red thumbs-down doesn’t mean what it seems, so it’s important to read the articles explaining their decisions, along with following up on links to sources, and un-sourced facts they present.
Get multiple reliable sources. We all have our own sense of which news organizations are on the up and up, but sometimes agendas are carefully hidden. For example, studies funded by industry insiders such as Coca-Cola, or the Sugar Association, just might have a bias towards sugar’s role in our diet, and their reports can appear just as solid as what you might find in scientific journals. Further, if your topic is remotely political, be wary of sites like Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, Salon, etc., as their direct reporting can do a masterful job of camouflaging their agendas.
Usually it doesn’t take long to find more than one agency reporting the same fact, but in those cases it’s also important to take a closer look. There are several montages on YouTube of local news stations from various networks reporting word for word on the same story. The only explanation is that they're parroting the same news source. So, what if that source is full of beans? Obviously, this is another fact-checking rabbit hole. Sometimes the best you can do is just make sure your multiple sources aren’t actually the exact same report. Just don’t let that make you lazy. If you can’t find multiple unique sources, then you probably shouldn’t use it.
Find the original quote. “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.” We all know President Washington’s famous childhood confession. The ironic thing is, the only evidence of his quote about honesty asserts that he never actually said it. So, before giving in to the power of a historical quote, it’s never a bad idea to copy and paste it into a Google search to verify its authenticity.
The whole point of a blog is to connect with people and to show them you’re not just there to collect their money, but that you’re passionate about what you do, and how it affects your patrons. It’s also an opportunity to gain their trust in your expertise, so if you don’t follow up on your facts, you're dumping your bailed water right back into your boat. At Content Bacon, we’re happy to apply our years of empirical experience with developing relationships to keep your ship cruising forward!