Adventures in Fact-Checking

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Yesterday I called a company to fact-check some details about a fair trade item for an upcoming issue of Natural Home. The company owner confirmed that we did indeed have all the correct information, and then she said, “I’ve always wondered how someone gets a job as a fact-checker.”

I laughed. “Fact-checking is just part of my job; I don’t devote full time to it. I’m actually just an editor making sure the 'i's are dotted and the 't's are crossed before we go to press.”

“Just an editor!” she exclaimed.

Yes, just an editor. In the heat of deadlines and proofreading and juggling a number of articles from at least two—more often three—issues at a time, I forget that some people envision an editor’s glamorous life. Well, fact-checking seems more tedious than glamorous to me, yet it arms me with myriad obscure bits of info—and it’s nice to pass them along to readers.

Over the years, I’ve ferreted out details such as what distinguishes cruelty-free silk from conventional (the cruelty-free version waits to harvest cocoon fibers until the silkworms have hatched; thus the fibers are shorter in length because the insect had to tear through the cocoon).

I know the difference between tropical hardwoods ipe and machiche (hmmm…come to think of it, I’d have to look that up again, but I do know that to protect rainforests we should buy wood that’s been third-party-certified as sustainably forested).

And the byproduct of being a fact-checker is that terms such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs, chemicals used as flame retardants, used in furniture foam and mattress stuffing) roll off my tongue. Ooooh…juicy cocktail chat!

I also know that organic fruits and vegetables at the grocery store are labeled with a number sticker that always begins with “9”. Sometimes we Fact Nerds talk amongst ourselves. Kimberly Lord Stewart, author of Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket Shopper’s Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007) told me those little fruit labels evolved from concern over health epidemics and bioterrorism. If people are stricken by food-borne illness, the government has a way to track every apple or pear to its origin.

These are but a few of the factoids orbiting my brain pan. However, the real reason for fact-checking hit home a few weeks ago when I was casually checking a phone number for the Poison Control Center. Usually I dial, listen to the salutation and hang up, satisfied at our accuracy. This time, though, a sultry voice answered with promises of all-night fun. I slammed down the receiver, my heart pounding. A porn line advertisement? Surely I had dialed wrong. I redialed, and there she was again. A quick search of the Internet found the right number, but I had new appreciation for the importance of details.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need to get back to my fact-checking.