Politics & Media
Aug 24, 2009, 08:05AM

"The New Yorker's fabled fact-checking dept"

And the Splice connection.

In this week's New Yorker, James Surowiecki has a great piece on health care. (How's this for a lede? "There are times when Americans' attitude toward health-care reform seems a bit like St. Augustine’s take on chastity: Give it to us, Lord, but not yet.") It examines the current debate through two concepts: the "endowment effect" (owning something makes you overvalue it) and the "status quo bias" (people tend to prefer the, well, status quo). If there's something vaguely Gladwellian about this, Surowiecki manages to be both original and non-strident---harder than it sounds when it comes to health care.

But I was struck less by Surowiecki's content than by his form. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a story for Splice Today on the New Yorker's fabled fact-checking department and its stubborn refusal to link to sources. My main piece of evidence was Nicholson Baker's story on the Kindle, which mentions a YouTube video but by the wrong name---a mistake easily avoided if his editors had only linked to the video in their online edition.

This is what makes Surowiecki's column so interesting: it has links, lots of links, 15 in all, mostly to the political polls and broader scientific studies on which Surowiecki builds his argument. I can't remember another New Yorker story doing this. I looked through Surowiecki's archive, and, while he regularly cites statistics and other linkable data, this is his first "Financial Page" column to include links. (As opposed to his blog, which links regularly.)

It would be preposterous for Splice to take any credit for this shift. (And it's a minor shift, anyway: the issue's non-Surowiecki stories don't link.) Still, if we bash the New Yorker's staff when they blow it, we should praise them when they get it right---even if they never emailed back


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