It’s difficult to read any media these days without encountering a discussion of whether some pieces of news are fact-based or whether they are distorted reports of reality.
It prompts an academic to think about how our individual fields determine what is meritorious and what is not. Much of this is based on peer reviews. The “peer” in this phrase is generally meant to be one schooled and practicing in the same field of inquiry as that of the given scholar.
In fields with external funding, the peer review takes place in multiple stages. When a proposal for external funding is submitted to the funding agency, it is often reviewed by a group of researchers in the same field. They rate the proposals relative to other proposals for work in the field. These are judgments of knowledgeable others about the likely benefits of knowledge expansion from a proposed project.
The link to “determining the facts” and peer review is that the reviewers are judging whether the proposed research will indeed add knowledge to the existing domain. Will the results of the work produce valid knowledge expansion?
Later, when funded research has been completed, another stage of peer review begins with the dissemination of findings. These are often fully anonymous reviews. A group of peer scholars are asked to read the written product of the research and judge whether it is persuasive as evidence of a novel finding, an innovation, or an extension of current knowledge. If the work doesn’t yield support of peer reviewers, it is not published (at least in that journal).
Similar, but perhaps more diverse, procedures of peer review for book-length manuscripts by university presses. It is common that this occurs after a few early chapters are drafted and the full book is outlined. The role of the internal editor for the university press is often an important influence on the acceptance.
The link to “determining the facts” is that the community of peers determine whether the work is meritorious of being added to the cumulative product of a field.
In speaking with my journalist friends, they note that mainline newspapers often have codes of practice and internal review procedures to vet drafts of stories. They form the internal community of vetters who determine their acceptance of facts. They are quick to note that the proliferating new media have not fully adopted such procedures. Indeed, the rate at which new articles, blogs, tweets, and texts are produced makes such reviews unlikely.
In the absence of this, social networks that exchange news pieces among themselves might vet the veracity of reports. Unfortunately, such networks in general do not possess the knowledge requisite to reviewing the veracity of such pieces. They are in general based on friend groups; they tend to be rather homogeneous, thus, offering little variation in viewpoints.
I am fully aware of the weaknesses of peer reviews that are part of academic life, but, with all their faults, I must admit I appreciate them more these days.