An exercise in fact-checking

Fact checking is a drag. It’s tedious and it can get in the way of a really good story. But, of course, it’s crucial unless you write fiction. The ScienceOnline2010 session on fact checking Sunday, which was led by freelance science writers Rebecca Skloot, Sheril Kirshenbaum and David Dobbs, made that clear.

Blogs have a reputation for being loosey-goosey about accuracy. Who wants to spent time on checking facts when you want to be funny or profound, right? That gave me an idea for a quick experiment.

What I decided to fact-check was an anecdote Sheril told about getting to the roots of a popular scientific myth: That kissing for a minute burns 26 calories. She said she came across the 26-calorie kiss a lot on the Internet while she was working on a book about the science of kissing. At about Thanksgiving, she was eating Hershey’s kisses and noticed that one Hershey’s kiss was 26 calories. Myth debunked.

When I checked the facts in Sheril’s anecdote by using Google, here is what I found:

  • Sheril wrote about debunking the 26-calorie kiss on the Discover blog. The blog entry is dated Sept. 25, 2009.
  • Not every Hershey’s kiss has 26 calories. It depends on the flavor. Milk chocolate and rich dark chocolate kisses have 26 calories apiece. But a hugs kiss has 23 calories and special dark chocolate and cherry cordial kisses have 20 calories apiece.
  • Donna Fox also traced the myth of the 26-calorie kiss down to the calorie count in a Hershey’s kiss on her blog Think Lean Thoughts. The blog entry is dated Aug. 20, 2008.

In my experiment, I incorporated another valuable fact-checking habit. I linked each finding to its source, for transparency and because there’s never enough fact-checking.

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