Accuracy is essential (that’s not as obvious as you’d think)

Sandra Stewart | April 30, 2010

Accuracy is essential to credibility. Duh, right? Yet organizations miss the accuracy boat all the time. And even one or two innocuous slip-ups can cast doubt on everything you say.

Just look at the “climategate” kerfuffle, where a few questionable (stolen) e-mails between scientists were taken to indicate rot at the heart of all their work. Or at how the inclusion of an unsubstantiated speculation on the melting rate of Himalayan glaciers in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report brought forth a barrage of claims that all climate science is bunk.

Sure, these reactions came from people who are climate science skeptics (at best)—but that’s the point. Every business making a benefit claim for its products or services and any advocacy group promoting a policy solution faces skeptics. Inaccuracy encourages doubt to spread.

So why is there so much inaccuracy in communications of all kinds? Anyone who’s not actively trying to deceive realizes that factual statements should be correct; when they’re not, speed and sloppiness are usually the culprits. The rule: check every statement. Then check it again.

The more slippery (and common) problem is claims that are inaccurate by implication—for example, packaging that can be recycled only at rare, specialized facilities but is simply  labeled “recyclable” with no explanation. Companies that do this may earn greenie points from the uninformed, but once people find out their recycling can’t actually be recycled, they tend to get peeved—and massively distrustful. Credible claims are realistically correct, not just technically correct. The rule: if you’re implying something untrue, then you’re not telling the truth.


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