Are our publishing houses and art galleries employing fact-checkers? How about the art mags? Goodness knows in the editorial work I've done it's never been made explicit to me that I need to relentlessly review every name, date, title, quote, anecdote and beyond. Certainly I've never had a piece of fact-checked writing handed back to me.
Last year in the New Yorker (sadly only the abstract is available online) John McPhee wrote an interesting account of what it's like to be a fact-checker at the magazine - a venerable role at a venerable institution. The piece started
Sara Lippincott retired as an editor at this magazine in the early nineteen-nineties, having worked in The New Yorker’s fact-checking department from 1966 until 1982. She had a passion for science. In 1973, a long piece of the writer’s called “The Curve of Binding Energy” received her full-time attention for three or four weeks and needed every minute of it. Explaining her work to an audience at a journalism school, Sara once said, “Each word in the piece that has even a shred of fact clinging to it is scrutinized, and, if passed, given the checker’s imprimatur, which consists of a tiny pencil tick.”
So I'm curious - who's got their pencils out in New Zealand?
* I was reminded this when I read two items on the same story this morning - the Guardian and the NYT on the recent discovery that the moon has shrunk (barely, and slowly - no need to freak out). The Brits said 200 metres and the Yanks 200 yards and while we're quibbling over less than 20 metres, this is science we're talking about - the discipline of exactitude, ferchrissakes.