Archive for the ‘Facts’ Category

Service of Whose Job is it Anyway? Fact Checking a Nonfiction Book

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Photo: arstechnica.com

Writing a book is daunting. Grasping the tremendous amount of information often gathered over many years and then wrapping it in the coherent and engaging form of a nonfiction book leaves me in awe and admiration of authors. Writing is just the second of many essential steps.

Lynn Neary wrote “Checking Facts in NonFiction,” a transcript of an NPR program I heard on Weekend Edition Saturday. “Authors, not publishers, are responsible for the accuracy of nonfiction books. Every now and then a controversy over a high-profile book provokes discussion about whether that policy should change.” Fact checking is in an author’s contract with the publisher.

Photo: phys.org.

The controversy Neary mentioned involved feminist author Naomi Wolf’s latest book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. Matthew Sweet, the host of a BBC 3 podcast “Free Thinking,” said in an interview “I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.” According to Neary, The New York Times joined the fray adding that she’d also made errors in previous books.

An author/journalist friend wrote me in an email: “It’s a privilege to be an author and it’s also a responsibility. We’re human and mistakes are unavoidable…and it sure would be nice if publishers were willing to pick up the tab for fact-checking. But at this point, they’re not, and I think there is a level of due diligence where you are responsible for either hiring a fact-checker or putting in the long, tedious hours to do it yourself.”

Photo: phys.org

Neary reported that Maryn McKenna “paid $10,000 to have someone check the facts in her last book ‘Big Chicken.’” McKenna concentrates on science and health. Best-selling authors like Wolf– and another author caught with errors, Jared Diamond who wrote “Upheaval”–can afford to pay fact checkers McKenna told Neary.

McKenna said “It really makes one wonder whether accuracy, as a value, is something that’s really top of mind for publishers or whether there’s a separate calculation going on about sales volume that accuracy and veracity doesn’t really intersect with.”

My author/journalist friend, who did her own fact checking for her fifth book—it was nonfiction–added: “I also asked a leading neonatologist to read the whole manuscript so he could tell me what I got wrong, and he very generously pointed out my errors so I could correct them before the book went to press. I’m sure there are still mistakes in there somewhere–there was so much conflicting source material and as a journalist there’s also a point where you need to make your best judgment. (For instance, newspaper eyewitness accounts of the same event on the same day conflicted, which I explained in the end notes.)”

The author/journalist added: “I was terrified of making mistakes and agonized over details. So while this opinion might come back to bite me, my feeling is that there was a level of sloppiness in Wolf’s book that’s troubling.”

Photo: pediaa.com

Neary wrote: “Money, says literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb, is the main reason writers don’t get their books fact-checked.” Parris-Lamb told her “I would like to see every book fact-checked, and I want to see publishers provide the resources for authors to hire fact-checkers.” Neary said: “Parris-Lamb sympathizes with writers, but he doesn’t expect publishers will start paying for fact-checking anytime soon because, in the end, he says, the author has more to lose than the publisher.”

Do you read nonfiction? Do you assume the information in the biographies, history, memoirs, journals and commentary you read is accurate? Does a sloppy research job feed the fake news monster? Given the state of book publishing today, what if anything do you think will inspire publishers to step up and pay for fact checking?

Photo: prowritingaid.com

Service of Harried Healthcare Staffers: Impact on Patient Patience & Security

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Nurse at desk

A friend wrote this post and the timing was perfect. It took two days for my husband to receive a prescription last week when it formerly took hours. One misplaced prescription spawned countless phone calls because the pharmacist never got the first digital request. Before the “new and improved” system—I wrote in April about NY State’s electronic prescription law–often meds were waiting for him on his return from his appointment. Thank goodness it wasn’t a life-saving medication.

She wrote:

Have you noticed that the support staff in many doctors’ offices seems overworked?  Because they are, you may have been on the receiving end of deep sighs, harrumphs, blank stares, disconnected calls or worse. And because these things happen so frequently, I guess we have to learn to live with them. But when, within a 24-hour period, three harried-health-care-worker incidents occurred that not only inconvenienced me but also potentially put my identity, my health and my mother’s health at risk, I got angry.

Bloody Irritating

receptionist in dr officeThe first incident involved a blood draw at a hospital that consistently earns a top ranking on the U.S. News & World Report list of top hospitals in the country. The patient who had registered with the receptionist just before me gave her a hard time about something. I wasn’t really listening but I was aware that the patient had raised her voice before storming out. I was next in line, and as I approached the check-in desk I instantly decided to be extra-nice to the receptionist, who clearly was frustrated.  I made some upbeat small talk as I handed her my prescription, which was written in typical physician hieroglyphs. She narrowed her eyes and asked no one in particular, “Why can’t doctors write more clearly?!” Since she was having difficulty deciphering his handwriting, she summoned a colleague for assistance. I watched as the second set of eyes narrowed, and then a what-do-you-think-this-prescription-says guessing-game commenced.  I quickly offered to call the doctor to get the definitive word about the prescription—which, of course, is what the receptionist should have done–but I was ignored. So, because I was facing a time crunch, I proceeded to the lab, had blood drawn, and then headed home. By the time I reached my house, there was a message on my answering machine from the lab manager informing me that they had not drawn enough blood because they had misinterpreted the physician’s instructions. As a result, I needed to return to the hospital. Not only was that inconvenient, it also left me wondering whether their final interpretation of the doctor’s handwriting was correct or not.

Facts? What Facts?

Patient recordsLater that day, I brought my elderly mother to an appointment with a pulmonologist. Although this was the first time she was seeing this doctor, he is affiliated with the aforementioned hospital, where she’d had several admissions. This facility keeps a centralized database of patient records, which is accessible to all doctors affiliated with the hospital. Because the doctor’s staff neglected to send us paperwork in advance, I spent 20 minutes entering mom’s current health data. She takes lots of prescriptions, and the dosages and names change frequently. As a result, she always carries an up-to-date list in her handbag.  At the conclusion of the appointment the staff gave us a report with test results and other info. My mother glanced at it and noticed that some, but not all, of her current meds were listed, and the report included several mistakes in dosages. I knew I had not entered incorrect info on my mother’s paperwork, so I asked the receptionist how all these errors had happened. Did the old records override the new ones? Did someone choose not to enter the new info because they were too busy? I’ll never know because I didn’t receive a coherent explanation. What’s the point of providing a list of a patient’s current meds if the info isn’t entered into the patient’s records? More importantly, how can a doctor make sound recommendations to a patient if the doctor doesn’t have up-to-date facts?

Vanishing Act

medicare cardThe third incident occurred the next morning at a surgeon’s office. I had been there at least five times over the past four months for treatment of a complication following a procedure. At my April appointment I provided updated insurance information and watched as the receptionist photocopied my brand-new Medicare and insurance cards. By the time I arrived for my next appointment, in July, that info had vanished. There simply was no record of it. When I told the receptionist which of her colleagues had photocopied my cards, I was met with blank stares. I ask you: Where does this stuff go??? The incident was disturbing because those cards included everything needed to steal my identity. Although the receptionist reacted with a shrug of her shoulders and a “yeah, this happens every day” attitude, their carelessness was a big deal to me because it has the potential to cause significant consequences.

I get angry and concerned when mistakes are made by health care employees because there simply is no room for error in their industry.  Am I unrealistic, or do I have a right to feel this way? More importantly, what can patients do to ensure that no one involved in their health care cuts corners?

 

blank stare

Service of Getting the Facts Right

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Just the Facts

This guest post is written by Homer Byington who continues to devour history books and biographies as he has since childhood and has an uncanny memory for facts.  My husband wrote:

Ashley Jackson’s Churchill, (Quircus, New York, 2014), and Harry L. Katz and The Library of Congress’s Mark Twain’s America, (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014), have more in common than that I just finished one and started the other.

Churchill book coverBoth books received excellent notices. The recent glowing review in The Wall Street Journal was what prompted me to read the latter, and I can attest to the quality of the writing and fresh, balanced thinking in the former. Jackson’s work reminds me a little of that great popular historian, George M Trevelyan’s. However, while the illustrations in Mark Twain’s America are lavish and stunning, it reads like it was written by a committee, which it probably was. The book is also minimally annotated and the index is a joke.

Mark Twain's America coverThese books have more in common than just success. Unfortunately, they both contain factual errors.

The photo caption under a photograph of the three men on page 5 of the insert to Churchill reads, “December 1943: The Bermuda conference. French Premier Joseph Laniel, President Eisenhower and Churchill.” The 1943 must be a typo; the date should be December 1953 when the three of them did meet in Bermuda. What is confusing is that Churchill also met with then General Eisenhower in Tunis in December of 1943, but it was not likely at that time that either of the two had ever heard of Laniel who was then living in occupied France.

On page 22 of Mark Twain’s America, the authors, writing about John Marshall Clemens, the father of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) state: “Trained as a lawyer in Kentucky, and named after the country’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he….” John Jay was the country’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I am not bragging, but I knew that before I reached high school. John Marshall was not even the second or third. The position was considered sufficiently miserable, that nobody would do it for long. That is the beauty of the Marshall story. When President Adams offered him the job, he took it and did much to make the court what it is today.

I know about editors, proofreaders and fact checkers, but I blame the authors. If they cannot get their facts right themselves, how can we trust what they write? The Library of Congress, especially, should be ashamed of itself, and Mark Twain’s America, because of the pictures, is likely to end up in every school library in the country.

What do you think? Should authors be held accountable for errors of fact in their work? Or is it all right for them to slough off the blame on their editors, proof readers and fact checkers?  Can you share other such examples of factual mistakes?

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