The Epistemology of Fact Checking

Published in Critical Review, 2013

Recommended citation: Joseph E. Uscinski and Ryden W. Butler. 2013. "The Epistemology of Fact Checking." Critical Review 25(2): 162-180.

Fact checking has become a prominent facet of political news coverage, but it employs a variety of objectionable methodological practices, such as treating a statement containing multiple facts as if it were a single fact and categorizing as accurate or inaccurate predictions of events yet to occur. These practices share the tacit presupposition that there cannot be genuine political debate about facts, because facts are unambiguous and not subject to interpretation. Therefore, when the black-and-white facts — as they appear to the fact checkers — conflict with the claims produced by politicians, the fact checkers are able to see only (to one degree or another) “lies.” The examples of dubious fact-checking practices that we discuss show the untenability of the naïve political epistemology at work in the fact-checking branch of journalism. They may also call into question the same epistemology in journalism at large, and in politics.

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