Reflections: Burdens of proof as a fact checker

Generally, receiving an email from me is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, I am there to help and respond to the author’s needs. On the other, it often means I found something wrong or have questions, because I am showing up to poke the research and find its weak points. Sometimes it stresses people out and makes them feel badly about their work. Never, of course, my intent.

When I first introduce myself now, I explain to speakers and others whose work I am reviewing: Hi! I am the in house researcher/fact checker and I am on your team to protect you and your work from internet trolls. We aren’t going to give them anything to poke at so they will instead engage with your ideas.

Because, really, we are a team. I am there to support them and tell them where we need to include better citations or data, where we can ask more critical questions, how we can introduce necessary “degrees of doubt,” etc.

I like to allow the speaker/writer to set their own “burden of proof.” This comes in several forms. I might read your work and see someone introducing “science,” or “social science,” an “Oped,” “predictive work,” “fiction,” or a “personal story,” among others. I adapt my research support and feedback accordingly.

If, for example, you tell me you are a scientist, I will hold you to the guidelines set out by the scientific method. This means that I need to find proof that your study and results have been reviewed and cleared, that the results and experiment is reproducible, etc.

If your piece is an Oped, I will make sure your foundational facts and reasoning can be supported, then you get to shape the rest of your analysis with the occasional question from me.

Each version of a script comes with a different degree of scrutiny to make sure I am supporting the piece in the best way I can. But I always make my intentions transparent to the author, to make sure we can work together to produce the best piece we can.

[If you don’t fact check, you might end up citing someone made up sharing fake information. Here is a funny story about myth busting around “chocolate as a health food.“]

Header Photo credit: Re:imagine Mobility – New Visions for 2030 workshop at TEDSummit2016, June 26 – 30, 2016, Banff, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED