Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fact-Checking Assurances

The 2011 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses revealed that a greater concerted effort at fact-checking had recently been implemented, resulting in some unreliable information being eliminated, with two examples being given: Gandhi’s statement to Lord Irwin and Newton’s model of the solar system.[1] This situation was showcased in the November 2017 JW Monthly Broadcast where David Splane of the Governing Body said that “we have to keep up. We have to check, check, check.” He added: “And when credible research reveals that we have to adjust or tweak a statement that we made in the past, we do so without hesitation.”[2] Thus, some information prior to this era of rejuvenated fact-checking may be suspect and in fact be unreliable, or less reliable than what we would prefer.

In this broadcast he also assured us: “We would never deliberately distort a quotation.”[3] That is, craft a quote as saying something that its author never intended.

Additionally, he stated after that their goal of keeping up with the latest research on a topic:
Now, it’s important to keep up with the very latest research. Something that was stated years ago as a fact may have been disproved. And the reason why is obvious. Someone may spend his entire life researching a very limited point in history—a very small point in history—and, of course, if he spends so much time researching, he’s going to uncover things. And so it’s not surprising that from time to time we have to adjust our view of some historical points. We have to check, check, check.[4]
Following this admission, Brother Splane provided an encouraging anecdote:
Now, someone might ask, ‘Why is it necessary to be so picky, to be so fussy, about accuracy?’ And in answer, I’d like to give an experience that I heard about a few years ago. In Northern Europe, there was a man who accepted a Bible study from Jehovah’s Witnesses. And when he was asked what motivated him to want to study, he said: “I read an article in your Awake! magazine on trees. Now, I happen to be a bit of an expert on trees. And after I read the article, I said to myself: ‘That article was so well-documented. It was so precise. Any organization that is that careful when writing about trees is going to be just as careful when teaching me the Bible.’” And on that basis, he accepted a Bible study.[5]
I applaud this effort at rejuvenated fact-checking, and I hope it produces beneficial results in pruning away past points that lacked sufficient fact-checking. Personally, I think we can see this at work in the new commentary on Ezekiel released this month at the Annual Meeting.

Lastly, this assurance of more conscientious fact-checking may remind one of this statement announced as recently as February, 2017, where a Watchtower commenced a paragraph confessing: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.”[6] While such humility is great to see, may our rejuvenated fact-checking apparatus also add to our credibility across the board!

[1] Tracing All Things With Accuracy,’ pages 9-13.
[3] Ibid. From minute marker 4:20-25.
[4] Ibid. From minute marker 4:33-5:03.
[5] Ibid. From minute marker 5:10-6:00.
[6] w17.02 4:12, page 26. (italics added) Or, as the Simplified Edition put it: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor perfect. It can make mistakes when explaining the Bible or directing the organization.”—page 24. (italics added) Simplified: