In the light of recent events, some people have been asking why publishers don't fact-check books. It's a reasonable question. Earlier this week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled the book Imagine from the shelves after learning that the author had fabricated some of the quotations.
I want to point something out. The three features I've written for Wired are roughly 4,000 words long. And it took something like two weeks for Wired to fact-check each of them.
Fact-checking is an arduous, labor-intensive process. A good fact-checker will verify every quotation and paraphrase by calling the person who was interviewed. He or she will ask to see the source for every assertion, requiring the writer to provide a reference. My drafts are filled with footnotes citing refereed journal articles, interview notes, and reputable websites. The factchecker will examine every single one of them.
For me, it's like doing a doctoral defense combined with a colonoscopy.
But this is why I respect magazines like Wired so much. When I read a Wired story, I know that every single sentence has been examined by at least four people: the editor, the factchecker, the top editor, and the writer.