Fact Checking Legends

The much better half returned from her first beauty shop appointment in Oil City, shaking her newly coiffed head. Her stylist was an Oil Country lifer — except for a few years in Texas after one of the former local “majors” transferred her husband there. She missed her home turf, but not as much as did her middle school-aged son. For his semester project he prepared a detailed presentation on “the valley that changed the world,” complete with maps, photos, and time line of the first successful “drilled” oil well. His teacher was shocked that he chose to present this fable because “Everyone knows the oil business started in Texas.” The stylist and her family returned to Pennsylvania soon afterwards.

We hear a great deal about “fake news” these days and Internet fact checking is all the rage. The late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously said “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” In technical matters, such as gear standards, it is important that “facts” be independently verified. This requires multiple sources and, in the case of experiments, repeatability. Some incredible breakthroughs, such as cold fusion, failed on repeatability.

For historians, repeatability is not an option so they must default to independent, “contemporary” accounts of the events in question. An Internet citation that loops back on itself is not the same as an academic paper with proper citations from a variety of sources. Truly, if it isn’t in writing in many different places it will not be “history.”

Standards committees sometimes struggle to “fact check” long-accepted bits of their documents. Until the computer age, committee members who were not present for every meeting might miss the derivation or negotiation of a specific factor. Meeting minutes cannot possibly capture the nuances of the discussion. Indeed, proprietary limitations often block the widespread release of the supporting data.

Gear Technology has been the “newspaper of record” for our trade for over 30 years. Fortunately, our peer-reviewed content has been scanned into a key word searchable database so readers can be confident that what they are using is as accurate as we can make it. Not all gear papers come through our process, however, so you may find information on the Internet that rightly deserves verification.

This is yet another reason why gear people need to document their innovations in writing. If it isn’t in writing it did not really happen.

About Charles D. Schultz 634 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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