The Curious Case of the Fuzzy Fact
“We process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.” Sounds like the perfect fact for an article on the power of visuals in marketing, right? Unless you can’t prove it. Fact checking is important in today’s world of content.
While fact-checking an article for D Custom, we found an endless regurgitation of this statistic online. Although everything led back to a 3M Corporation handout from 1997 (more on that later), we couldn’t find the research verifying the claim.
During our search, we came across a post on CogDogBlog by Alan Levine. In 2012, he went to extreme lengths to find the source behind this statistic. Levine even offered a cash prize to anyone who could find it. The result: no answers. When he called 3M, he was directed to the mythical handout in question. Talk about a dog chasing its tail.
We decided to cut the data from the article to break the misinformation cycle. Ironically, we received a marketing email with an infographic including this statistic the next day! Confounded, we decided to revisit Levine’s search. Several live chats, emails, and phone calls to 3M later, we were initially met with radio silence — about two weeks later we heard back, with a link to a blog, quoting the stat, and no citation. How has this baseless data bounced around the internet for almost two decades?
This perplexing tale leads us to the importance of fact checking.
You shouldn’t assume something is accurate just because it’s been published online. Get your facts straight with these tips:
- Check for credibility: Is the site publishing the data known for integrity in journalism? If not, don’t blindly trust the information.
- Go to the source: No matter how reliable the publication seems, treat a claim as hearsay until you can find the actual study or report citing the information.
- Get on the horn: Sorry, but you still need to make phone calls occasionally (I know, life is hard). If you’re coming up short, talk to a (human) company representative, subject matter expert, or research librarian.
- Reference fact-checking sites: FactCheck.org, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and PolitiFact fight the good fight for fact lovers.
- Go beyond the basic search: Use different wordings, combinations, and Google search operators to customize your results.
- Crack open a book (digitally): Google Books’ advanced book search and Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature reveal exact quotes.
- Visit your local library: The library is still a valuable — and free — research asset. In addition to the ton of books available, members have access to e-books and subscription-based databases like LexisNexis.
Think you’re done? Revisit the text to make sure you’ve researched every questionable item and looked at the story from all angles. We checked the URLs once more before submitting this article, and one of the sources of the 3M stat is no longer active. Coincidence? Or was this one small step forward for fact-checking?
For more information on editorial best practices in content marketing, contact us, and visit our social channels here, here, here, and here. (Yes, that was the unmistakable soft sound of us sort of tooting our own horn.)