Category Archives: Fact checking

My talk about fact-checking

The Editors Guild recorded my talk about fact-checking last night and posted it to their YouTube channel, so you can watch it here:

Here’s a link to the PDF handout I prepared and refer to in my talk, with links to selected resources and information about fact-checking:

As I noted in the meeting description, fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible, and protecting writers and publications from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. I talked about the skills it requires (an obsession with accuracy, skepticism, critical thinking, the ability to do research and find and evaluate sources, and a willingness to ask questions), who does it, why it’s so rare these days and what types of publications/media generally do or don’t do it. I described the fact-checking process for a major magazine feature, what kinds of things you check and particular trouble spots, discussed some cautionary tales, gave fact-checking tips, and answered questions from the audience.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions. I’d also like to know if there’s any interest in me writing about or teaching classes on fact-checking, research, information literacy, or other topics.

For further reading on these and other subjects, browse my website/blog and my Twitter feed.

I’ll be speaking about fact-checking on November 14th

I’ll be speaking about fact-checking at the November 14th meeting of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild in Seattle:

Fact-Checking: Don’t Assume Anything

Whether editing fiction, nonfiction, corporate documents, or magazine articles, some responsibility falls upon the editor to verify the facts. Fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible in order to protect authors and publishers from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. Lisa Gold, a fact-checker and researcher, will discuss various aspects of fact-checking, offer tips and resources, and explain why you should be skeptical about everything you read.

Speaker Bio: Lisa Gold is a freelance researcher, fact-checker, and writer. She has fact-checked magazine articles, reported features, narrative essays, book reviews, historical novels, nonfiction books, and other types of writing. She’s been a member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild since 2005. You’ll find Lisa online at and on Twitter at @bylisagold.

The meeting is open to all–you don’t have to be an Editors Guild member to attend–and begins at 6:30pm in the Wallingford neighborhood. Details are on the Editors Guild website (click on the November 14th meeting to see the info and map). If you can’t attend, my talk and Q&A may be recorded and posted on the Editors Guild YouTube page.

If you’re interested in learning more about fact-checking, I recommend two excellent books on the subject, both available in print or ebook:

I’ve added links to some additional resources to my sidebar (with more to come), and here are some of my earlier blog posts on fact-checking.

Update, November 12th:

I went on a tweetstorm today about fact-checking, a summary of which I’ve posted here:

I’ve been thinking a lot about fact-checking this week because of the election and Monday’s Editors Guild meeting. In the meeting description, I wrote that fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible, and protecting writers and publications from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. But it’s bigger than that.

As writers, editors, or readers, we should care about the facts and loudly call out errors and falsehoods when we see them. So don’t share links without reading and evaluating the content and the source. When you see lies or fake news, call it out, correct it. Critical thinking, information literacy, fact-checking, crap detection, awareness of cognitive biases—these are more important than ever. This kind of work can be hard, lonely, and thankless, and often feels futile, but we should do it anyway, and keep doing it. Though people can choose to ignore or deny facts, eventually everyone has to deal with the consequences.

Update, November 25th: You can watch the video of my talk and download my handout here:

Lying to children about the past

I reviewed A Birthday Cake for George Washington, the controversial children’s picture book about slavery, for the Seattle Review of Books— read it here:

In my review I tell the real story of Hercules, George Washington’s slave-cook, a story far different from the happy fictional one in the book, which was promoted as “based on real events.” SPOILER ALERT: On Washington’s 65th birthday, Hercules didn’t bake a cake– he escaped.

The book was withdrawn by the publisher over the MLK holiday weekend, but the issues it raises are larger than this particular book. We should tell the complicated truths about America’s founders and founding and stop lying to our children about the past.

Did Tony Blair borrow dialogue from the movie The Queen?

Today’s Telegraph has an article by Tim Walker in which Peter Morgan, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Queen, says he suspects that Tony Blair incorporated lines from the movie into his autobiography:

In A Journey, Blair claims that the Queen said to him: “You are my 10th prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born.” In Morgan’s script to the 2006 film The Queen, Mirren, in the title role, tells Michael Sheen’s Blair: “You are my 10th prime minister, Mr Blair. My first was Winston Churchill.” Morgan tells me: “I wish I could pretend that I had inside knowledge, but I made up those lines. No minutes are taken of meetings between prime ministers and monarchs and the convention is that no one ever speaks about them, so I didn’t even attempt to find out what had been said.

“There are three possibilities. The first is I guessed absolutely perfectly, which is highly unlikely; the second is Blair decided to endorse what I imagined as the official line; and the third is that he had one gin and tonic too many and confused the scene in the film with what had actually happened, and this I find amusing because he always insisted he had never even seen it.”

As this is impossible to fact-check without the cooperation of Elizabeth II, we may have to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt and just marvel at Peter Morgan’s ability to get inside the heads of his characters. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent film– the screenplay and the performances are exceptional.)

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America”

Today, July 2nd, is the 234th anniversary of American independence. July 4th is the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. For the whole story, see my post from last year, “Why July 2nd is really Independence Day.”

The document above is the original resolution on Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776, in the hand of Charles Thompson, secretary of the Congress:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

It is from the Papers of the Continental Congress and is housed at the National Archives.

The document above is the first page (of four) of Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence, written in June 1776, including all the changes made later by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, other members of the committee, and the Continental Congress. It is housed at the Library of Congress, and you can view it in their online exhibit “Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents”. You can compare side-by-side the text of various drafts with the final version here.

“As an educator it’s my duty to empower you to think…”

In this entertaining and informative video clip, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains and debunks the 2012 “end of the world” hype for a group of students at the 2010 World Science Festival. He also simply and eloquently explains why it’s important to think critically, evaluate information, and be scientifically literate, and in the process shows just what a great teacher he is. This, for me, is the money quote, which I transcribed from the video:

This is what we’re confronted with in this age of rapid dissemination of information, whether or not it is correct. So, I could just tell you it’s all bunk, but then you wouldn’t be empowered to understand why, other than to quote, “Oh, Dr. Tyson said,” and I never want you to quote me citing my authority as a scientist for your knowing something. If that’s what you have to resort to, I have failed as an educator. As an educator it’s my duty to empower you to think, so that you can go forth and think accurate thoughts about how the world is put together, inoculating you against the charlatans out there who will exploit your ignorance…. Science literacy is not just how much science you’ve memorized. No, it’s how is your brain wired for inquiry, what is the next question you ask when someone wants to sell you something….

Watch the whole thing:

Thanks to the Friendly Atheist for pointing out the video in his blog.

I have treats for you…

* Last night I spoke with Stesha Brandon, the events manager of the University Book Store in Seattle, and she told me that they are getting an Espresso Book Machine in January. (See my post “…an ATM for books” for more about the Espresso Book Machine, including video of it in action.) That makes a total of three EBMs in Washington state (University Book Store, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Village Books in Bellingham), more than any other state. Decisions, decisions…. Which public domain work should I print first?

* Thanks to the LiteratEye blog, I’m having great fun browsing through LibraryThing’s “Legacy Libraries” project, in which members of the “I See Dead People’s Books” group enter the libraries of famous dead people as LibraryThing catalogues. There are nearly 70 completed libraries, including  John Adams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, T.E. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and George Washington. There are also over 50 libraries in progress, including  Charles Darwin, John Dee, Emily Dickinson, C.S. Lewis, Mary, Queen of Scots, Herman Melville, Adam Smith, Leonardo da Vinci, and William Butler Yeats.

* For those who are total Shakespeare geeks like me, behold the new Shakespeare Quarto Archives, containing digital reproductions and transcriptions of 32 copies of the five earliest editions of Hamlet published before 1642. Here’s a video introduction to the Shakespeare Quarto Archives:

* There are lots of end of the year lists, but I always look forward to those by Craig Silverman on his Regret the Error blog. For your reading pleasure:

Crunks 2009: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

2009 Plagiarism Round-Up

* And finally:

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

Ceiling Cat creats teh universes and stuffs

Yes, Virginia, there is a LOLCat Bible. I discovered the LOLCat Bible Translation project through Steve Wiggins (Neal Stephenson’s brother-in-law), a scholar of ancient and modern religions with a blog named Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.