Coming to Terms With the Way Things Are
First, go read this excerpt from The Lifespan of a Fact in Harper’s, a series of choice exchanges between John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, “fact checker” for the Believer magazine.
Finished? Good. Now read Laura Miller’s review of The Lifespan of a Fact. It’s a withering review. Miller is none too complimentary of D’Agata (his “authorial voice was insufferable—preening and self-important”) or of Fingal (“Much of what he does is unnecessary by even the most rigorous of magazine fact-checking standards … and yet he neglects some basic techniques of verification”), and she concludes with the following observation:
Fact checking—not just the experience of being fact-checked but often the mere expectation of it—makes you pay more attention to the world around you. It compels you to stop insisting on what you want things to be and to come to terms with what they are. It is, above all, a humbling experience, a perpetual process of correction that, far from instilling a false sense of certainty, makes you ever more alert to the myriad ways you can screw things up by falling in love with your own ideas or accepting a conventional truth at face value.
Exactly right. Want evidence? Go now and read Mac McClelland on fact checking her book For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question, and be humbled.