Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Who Is Fact-Checking Books?
In the recent round of political debates we’d hear the media say they are “fact-checking” the assertions made by each presidential candidate, so that the record could be set straight for a confused and ill-informed public. It made me wonder: Who is fact-checking the tons of books being published?
Half the books released every day come from self-published authors, many of whom don’t necessarily hire an editor to double-check their facts and statements. For the books published by traditional publishers, university presses, and small independents, most will have editors go through a book to capture issues of spelling, syntax, and grammar, but many do not take on the role of fact-checker unless the occasional statistic or statement rouses suspicion.
Quite simply, authors and publishers don’t take the time or make available the resources to properly fact-check most of the books presented to the public.
The danger is two-fold: First, the public becomes misinformed and acts on wrongful claims, faux facts, and distorted truths. Additionally, the public begins to lose faith in the credibility of the books it purchases. But neither danger seems to have inspired an industry-wide commitment to fact-checking.
The retailers don’t demand the books to be fact-checked any more than they demand any product do what it claims to do. They don’t feel it’s their job to take responsibility for what they sell. Besides, if it’s found that a book is a lie or a product doesn’t work, the retailer will just remove the item from its shelves or Web site. Retailers react but don’t preemptively “recall” a product.
So if authors, publishers, and retailers don’t check the facts, who will? The news media? They don’t have the time, space or resources to do it but in a few cases. The consumer? Librarians? Who has the time, knowledge, or money to do that?
For now, we live in a time where truth is still optional for books -- and apparently for politicians. It’s up to each of us to act as a fact-checker on all the information that floats across our screens and books. But it’s a safe fact to say there’s a bit of baloney on everyone’s plate.