Double-check the Big, Game-Changing Claims – Here’s Why

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a piece discussing the decision by Henry Holt & Company to stop printing and selling The Last Train from Hiroshima "because its author had relied on a fraudulent source for a portion of the book and possibly fabricated others."  Read the full article here. Publishers have consistently claimed that fact checking book-length works is too cumbersome and that ultimately authors are responsible for the content of their work.  (See our post from February 2009 here for more background.)

Regardless of how the book publishing industry opts to come to terms with fact checking challenges, the Times piece contained a good rule of thumb for public records researchers:  if a work makes a claim that substantially changes an established body of knowledge, it should be thoroughly vetted.  Referencing the now debunked claim in The Last Train from Hiroshima that there was a secret accident with the first atomic bomb, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) put the principle as follows, "I would have asked a lot more questions than evidently got asked, since it would be such a radical change in the historical record."